NYU Surrenders to the Heckler’s Veto in Mohammed Cartoon Dispute

March 29, 2006

NEW YORK, March 29, 2006—In violation of its own policies, New York University (NYU) is refusing to allow a student group to show the Danish cartoons of Mohammed at a public event tonight. Even though the purpose of the event is to show and discuss the cartoons, an administrator has suddenly ordered the students either not to display them or to exclude 150 off-campus guests from attending. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is urging NYU’s president to reverse course and stand up for freedom of speech.

“NYU’s actions are inexcusable,” declared FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, who is slated to speak at the event. “The very purpose of this event is to discuss the cartoons that are at the center of a global controversy. To say that students cannot show them if they wish to engage anyone outside the NYU community is both chilling and absurd. The fact that expression might provoke a strong reaction is a reason to protect it, not an excuse to punish it.”

Earlier this month, the NYU Objectivist Club decided to hold a panel discussion entitled “Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons,” at which the cartoons will be displayed. Similar events, sponsored by the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), have taken place on several other campuses. Like previous NYU Objectivist Club events, the discussion was to be open to the public.

However, on Monday afternoon, NYU Director of Student Activities Robert Butler sent an e-mail requesting a meeting with the leaders of the Objectivist Club the next day. He also informed them that NYU would now “require that this event be open only to members of the NYU community.” Butler cited “the campus climate and controversy surrounding the cartoons,” ordering the students to inform the “non-NYU people” who had already registered that they “should not plan on attending.” He concluded, “This is not negotiable.”

Following the meeting, Butler sent another e-mail clarifying that the students have two choices: they must either not display the cartoons, or not allow anyone from off campus to attend the event. Approximately 150 off-campus guests are currently registered to attend.

“This is a classic case of the heckler’s veto,” noted FIRE’s Lukianoff. “NYU is shamelessly clamping down on an event purely out of fear that people who disagree with the viewpoints expressed may disrupt it. These immoral, last-minute restrictions must be lifted.”

FIRE was informed of NYU’s actions just yesterday. Hours later, Lukianoff called NYU President John Sexton to remind him that NYU’s own policies recognize student groups’ right to open events to the public and proclaim that “the use of physical force or other disruptive means to obstruct and restrain speakers” is “destructive of the pursuit of inquiry and learning in a free and democratic society.” FIRE has not yet received a response.

NYU’s actions notwithstanding, Lukianoff still plans to speak at the event, which will take place at 7 p.m. tonight in the Eisner and Lubin Auditorium of NYU’s Kimmel Center.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve freedom of expression on college campuses across the country during the cartoon controversy can be viewed at thefire.org/cartoons.

CONTACT:

Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg_lukianoff@thefire.org

Yaron Brook, President, ARI: 408-206-7756; ybrook@aynrand.org

John Sexton, President, NYU: 212-998-2345; john.sexton@nyu.edu

Robert Butler, Director of Student Activities, NYU: 212-998-4718; bob.butler@nyu.edu

Schools: New York University Cases: New York University: Suppression of Discussion of Mohammed Cartoons Mohammed Cartoon Controversy: FIRE Response to Intimidation and Newspaper Disputes