The controversy over the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed has hit college campuses in recent weeks, with college newspapers reprinting the cartoons, professors displaying them, and students creating their own Mohammed caricatures. The majority of colleges have respected students’ rights to portray the prophet, but some have responded, either directly or indirectly, with censorship.
FIRE issued a press release yesterday highlighting our statement that addresses the issues and principles at stake in this controversy. The statement, written by FIRE Interim President Greg Lukianoff, says that, legally speaking, the right to print or otherwise display the cartoons is absolutely guaranteed under the First Amendment. Even though the threat of violence is a real one given the worldwide reaction to the cartoons, Lukianoff writes that “such a fear must not lead universities to forget that their primary duty is to defend the rights of students and faculty to hold and express their opinions and to promote the perpetual search for truth, not to placate those who would silence them.”
The fear of violence is indeed real, though those colleges that have censored the cartoons have likely been equally guided by a fear of offending Muslims. That the cartoons have been at the center of an international controversy is beyond doubt, but it is that position at the center of the controversy that makes them all the more newsworthy. Especially because most mainstream media outlets have refrained from printing the cartoons, FIRE is unconditionally dedicated to protecting the rights of all students and professors to publicly display the cartoons. If you or anyone you know has suffered censorship at the hands of a college or university, FIRE wants to know about it.