Victory for Free Speech at the University of Florida

By December 10, 2007

GAINESVILLE, Fla., December 10, 2007—Student groups at the University of Florida (UF) will be allowed to freely promote the controversial film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” following a controversy with the school’s administration. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) intervened after a university official e-mailed the student body demanding an apology from the student groups sponsoring the film.

“The University of Florida chilled expression on campus when it publicly demanded an apology from student groups simply for promoting a film,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “Now, all students have been assured that UF will support their right to freely express themselves without fear of reprisal from the university.”

Several student groups—including UF’s Law School Republicans, College Republicans, Jewish Student Union, and Jewish Law Students Association—had posted fliers to advertise a November 13, 2007, screening of the film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” The fliers used the headline, “RADICAL ISLAM WANTS YOU DEAD.”

On November 26, Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin e-mailed all students at UF a letter entitled “Official Response to a recent advertisement for the movie ‘Obsession.’” In her letter, Telles-Irvin stated that “the groups that posted [the fliers] owe the campus, and particularly campus members of the Islamic faith, an apology and a clarification.”

FIRE wrote to Telles-Irvin on November 29, reminding her that although the flier might have offended some on campus, it was unquestionably protected expression under the First Amendment. FIRE warned that the administration’s message created a “chilling effect” because students could reasonably fear punishment for hosting similar events in the future.

On December 6, Telles-Irvin again wrote all UF students, assuring them of their right “to freely express themselves on any issue” and making clear that there would be no disciplinary action against the students who promoted the film.

“Although we were concerned by the university’s initial response, FIRE is pleased that UF has reaffirmed its commitment to free expression and will allow its students to promote and view ‘Obsession’ and openly discuss the ideas it presents,” Lukianoff said. “For the marketplace of ideas to thrive universities must not shy away from dissenting or provocative points of view. In fact, universities should welcome these opportunities for more serious, rigorous, and challenging debate and discussion.”

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 liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:

Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg_lukianoff@thefire.org
Patricia Telles-Irvin, Vice President for Student Affairs, University of Florida: 352-392-1265; tellesirvin@ufl.edu

Schools: University of Florida