Florida Attorney General Challenges University of Florida on Free Speech

December 5, 2007

On Monday, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum wrote the University of Florida (UF) about the “chilling effect on the free speech rights of students” caused by an official letter sent to all students by Dr. Patricia Telles-Irvin, UF’s Vice President for Student Affairs. Telles-Irvin had taken issue with the posters that students had put up for the movie Obsession using the headline “RADICAL ISLAM WANTS YOU DEAD.” She wrote that “the groups that posted [the posters] owe the campus … an apology and a clarification.”

McCollum wrote:

By not only criticizing the ad, but also calling on the groups that posted the ad to apologize, Dr. Telles-Irvin, intentionally or not, has chilled free speech on the UF campus. It may be that her intent with this letter was simply to encourage students when speaking of radical Islamists to put them in context by also making a statement that most practitioners of the Islamic faith are not terrorists and not radical Islamists. But that is not the effect of her letter. And I would submit that when one posts an ad for a movie it isn’t practical to expect a “clarification,” as perhaps Dr. Telles-Irvin thinks is needed when speaking of radical Islamists.

FIRE wrote to Telles-Irvin along the same lines last week, and we asked her to respond by December 10. Meanwhile, similar letters have been written by the faculty advisor to the Law School Republicans, one of the sponsors of the screening, and by Florida Congressman Jeff Miller. Miller wrote:

University officials should think twice before meddling in First Amendment rights. After all, they should be the ones most passionate about promoting this freedom.

The UF Law School Republicans and UF College Republicans also have responded here. They wrote:

The wisdom of the administration’s action, an e-mail to the entire student body parroting one side’s view, represents a dangerous precedent for every instance when someone exercises the right to free speech.

Stay tuned for more on this case.

Schools:  University of Florida