Johns Hopkins University: Student Punished for Party Invitation


Johns Hopkins University

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Case Overview


In October 2006, the Sigma Chi fraternity at Johns Hopkins University threw a “Halloween in the Hood” party, which was shut down due to its “offensive” Facebook invitation. A fraternity member was then suspended after being charged with — and found guilty of — “harassment,” “intimidation,” and “failing to respect the rights of others,” because he posted the invitation on Facebook. Shortly after the suspension, Johns Hopkins President William Brody introduced a new and chillingly broad “civility” code prohibiting “rude, disrespectful behavior” at the university, stating in an article that speech that is “tasteless” or that breaches standards of “civility” will not be allowed. FIRE wrote to Johns Hopkins on November 28 to protest the university’s punishment and its new policy. Johns Hopkins responded by denying that the university “violate[d] anyone’s free speech.” Although the university reduced its punishment to the student’s satisfaction, FIRE again wrote to Johns Hopkins on April 2, 2007, to raise concerns about a newly enacted policy which poses a substantial threat to students’ expressive rights. As a result of these actions, Johns Hopkins earned a spot on FIRE’s “red alert” list of the worst offenders against student rights.