This Month in FIRE History: Florida College Bans ‘The Passion of the Christ’

By January 29, 2009

In ten years, FIRE has seen astounding double standards at work on campuses across the country. However, even we were shocked by our case at Indian River Community College (IRCC) in January 2005, one of the worst cases of hypocrisy FIRE has ever seen.

The case began when IRCC prevented the Christian Student Fellowship (CSF) from advertising and holding a viewing of the film The Passion of the Christ. IRCC justified its action by stating that the film was "R-rated" and "controversial," but FIRE didn’t have to look hard to find evidence that the school had hosted R-rated films in the past. Not surprisingly, the school was not also prohibiting all "controversial" campus events. In fact, at the same time that IRCC was censoring the CSF, the school was hosting a play entitled "Fucking for Jesus," in which a character simulated masturbation to an image of Jesus.

As Greg, then FIRE’s Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, pointed out at the time:

If IRCC has consistently prevented adult students from showing R-rated movies on campus, it has imposed on them an unconstitutional, paternalistic, and patronizing rule. IRCC’s recent actions make it more likely that IRCC has singled out The Passion of the Christ for censorship in an astonishing instance of unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination and abuse of administrative power. Either way, the college has shown extraordinary arrogance and foolishness.

After less than a month of public pressure from FIRE, IRCC reversed its ban, admitting that the policy had "not been interpreted and applied consistently throughout the College."

Happy as we were about the victory, it has unfortunately not served as a model for other colleges over the past three years. For example, since that time, we’ve seen instances of hypocritical censorship at Colorado College, where two students were punished for posting a parody of a flyer previously published by a feminist group, and Indiana University–South Bend, where a student reporter was found guilty of obscene behavior for asking sexually themed questions to the cast of The Vagina Monologues.

The problem of double standards on campus would, of course, be remedied by consistent enforcement of policies that don’t attempt to restrict constitutionally protected rights. Until then, we’ll keep fighting.

Schools: Indiana University South Bend Colorado College Indian River State College Cases: Indian River Community College: Ban on ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and Repression of Free Speech