Duquesne Crest Canevin
Political Poster Banned at Duquesne University

By November 27, 2013

Administrators at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh have banned a political poster that asserts that progressive social movements lead to tyranny and genocide. The controversy, first reported by The College Fix on November 21, apparently began when sophomore nursing major Bridget Seelinger was told that the poster was “too upsetting” to hang in the university’s largest dorm.

The poster, which undeniably constitutes protected political speech, depicts a pile of human remains being buried with a headline stating, “Leftist Ideas: Progressing Towards Tyranny.” The poster, provided to Seelinger by Young America’s Foundation, also includes a list of countries where genocides have occurred, along with the number of people killed in those genocides and text claiming that those examples represent “Murders by ‘Progressive Social Movements’ in the name of ‘helping the people.’”

FIRE is proudly nonpartisan and takes no position on the claims asserted in the poster. We do, however, take a position on students’ right to express political opinions: We are unabashedly in favor of those rights. As a private institution, Duquesne University is not legally bound by the First Amendment, but it is morally and contractually bound to provide its students with free speech rights in accordance with the promises it makes in its Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct (PDF). There, on page 7, Duquesne University expressly promises its students:

Discussion and expression of all views are permitted within the University subject to requirements for the maintenance of order.

a. Support of any cause by orderly means that does not disrupt the operation of the University is permitted.

b. Public statements and demonstrations by individual members of the University community or organizations shall be clearly identified as representative only of those individuals or organizations and not of the University.

Squaring Duquesne’s censorship of Seelinger’s poster with this policy requires creative disregard for the facts. Political ideas, even controversial ones, do not by themselves disrupt the operations of a university. And no one viewing the poster could have reasonably attributed the poster’s message to the university.

Simply put, Duquesne cannot justify its censorship in this matter and should reverse course immediately. FIRE will be monitoring this issue, so check back with us for updates.

Image: Duquesne crest carving on Canevin Hall - Wikipedia