Washington State University: Administrative Support for Heckler’s Veto of Student Play

Category: Free Speech
Schools: Washington State University

Washington State University (WSU) rejected the use of a “heckler’s veto” and warned students not to disrupt a controversial student-sponsored play—a reversal from its previous act of financing and organizing the disruption of a play earlier that year, when even campus security refused to remove individuals disrupting the play. In April of 2005, WSU paid for and trained students to disrupt student playwright Chris Lee’s bitingly satirical Passion of the Musical, a play that Lee warned would be “offensive or inflammatory to all audiences.” FIRE originally wrote WSU on two occasions after Lee enlisted its help, but WSU argued that the heckling was an exercise of students’ free speech rights, despite the fact that the heckling included threats of physical violence directed at cast members. After FIRE took WSU’s reactions public, WSU reversed its position and posted a new policy stating, “Please be aware that disruption to this performance, or any program will not be tolerated and will be dealt with accordingly, up to and including participants being escorted from the venue.”