The San Francisco University kangaroo court

March 14, 2007

San Francisco University is investigating its College Republicans for hosting an anti-terrorism rally on campus in which participants stepped on makeshift Hezbollah and Hamas flags. Several Muslims students filed a complaint arguing they were offended because the flags bore the word “Allah” and the actions were intended to incite and create a hostile environment.

Yet desecrating a flag—even burning an American flag however distasteful this act may be—is an expression protected by the First Amendment as recent Court cases have suggested and cannot be punished at a public university.

Robert Shibley, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) said, “The right to protest is at the very heart of the First Amendment, and means nothing if only inoffensive expression is permitted.”

San Francisco University officials replied noting that the university will “give all parties the confidence that they will be heard and fairly treated by a panel that includes representatives of all the University’s key constituencies.” Yet this reply implies legitimacy to the complaint rather than a baseless charge.

Presumably in a free society neither a public university nor any other government agency has the power to investigate an organization simply for disrespecting a religious symbol. By continuing the investigation, the university has come into direct conflict with the Constitution.

What makes the case stand out is not merely official defiance of the law, but the willingness to accede to political correctness. Suppose, for example, a group of Muslim students at the university decided to step on and burn an American flag. My guess is it would hardly generate a ripple on campus. The administration would probably say “the act is reprehensible, but they have every right to express their opinion.”

What this matter suggests is the preemptive surrender of American principles to the forces of protest. Since there are designated victim groups that cannot be offended, free speech is a sacrificial lamb on many campuses. Now it is a punishable offense to challenge Muslims or even contend that many are prone to violence and terror. Such allegations comprise a “hostile environment” or worse, “incivility.”

That evangelicals may be called “fanatics” is accepted because this group is not in the “protected” category. In the era of multiculturalism only certain cultures (read: religions) are legitimate. If a Jewish organization were to argue about a hostile campus environment after an Israeli flag were defiled, the Middle East Studies department would most likely file an amicus brief in behalf of the defilers.

That this attitude is now undermining essential liberties has been lost in the effort to be “sensitive” to minority concerns. It also denies reality: whether Muslim students like it or not, Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations. The students who stepped on the flag did not intend to blaspheme “Allah” which was written in Arabic script. They were merely protesting the actions of these Middle East political organizations.

Of course neither reality nor liberty can easily stand up to the fierce wind of political correctness. And universities, which should know better, have become hot houses promoting carefully selected sensitivities rather than defending American virtues and Constitutional principles.

Schools: San Francisco State University Cases: San Francisco State University: Students Investigated for Stepping on Flags