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Ban on desecrating terrorist flags challenged

July 10, 2007

A lawsuit filed by the Alliance Defense Fund is targeting the speech codes imposed on students by the university system in California after several students were prosecuted for the “desecration” of flags used by terrorist groups.

“America’s colleges and universities should recognize the constitutional rights of Christian and politically conservative students just as they do for all other students,” said David French, senior legal counsel for the ADF and chief of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.

“Officials at San Francisco State are required to respect the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right to free speech in exactly these kinds of situations,” he said.

As WND reported earlier, the university decided—after months of pressure – not to punish College Republicans who had been accused of desecrating the name of Allah by stepping on makeshift Hezbollah and Hamas flags at an anti-terrorism rally.

Led by the non-profit advocacy group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the public and some media outlets had called on the school to “uphold the students’ constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression.”

“We are relieved that SFSU has come to its senses and recognized that it cannot punish students for constitutionally protected expression,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said at the time. “But the fact remains that the university should never have investigated or tried them in the first place. This was a protected act of political protest, and it is impossible to believe the university did not know that from the start.”

The trouble began at an Oct. 17 anti-terrorism rally in which the students stepped on butcher paper painted to resemble the flags of the Middle East terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah. The College Republicans say they simply copied the script from an image on the Internet and didn’t know it bore the name of Allah in Arabic script.

A student who is not a member of the club had filed a complaint with university officials after the protest.

The student claimed that the Republican students engaged in “acts of incivility” and “intimidation” and created a “hostile environment” by publicly walking over the terrorist flags.

“I believe that the complaint is [about] the desecration of Allah,” a university official told The San Francisco Chronicle.

SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan eventually wrote that the
Student Organization Hearing Panel “unanimously concluded that the College Republicans organization had not violated the Student Code of Conduct and that there were no grounds to support the student complaint lodged against them.”

But French said the speech codes led to a “burdensome, unnecessary investigation and five months of ridicule and harassment for these students,”even though they did nothing but exercise their constitutional rights.

The ADF lawsuit now asks the court to strike down the ill-defined speech code policies of SFSU and the entire California State University system at issue in the investigation.

“The university could not even find enough evidence to find them guilty of any wrongdoing. It’s time for these speech codes to go so that this doesn’t happen to these students or any other students ever again,” he said.You may also remember Texas Tech’s famed “Free Speech Gazebo,” a structure approximately 20 feet in diameter that served as the sole free speech area for a campus of 28,000 students, before a federal court forced the university to open all traditionally public areas of its campus to free speech.
If these policies outrage you, they should—public universities that quarantine free speech to small areas of campus and/or place onerous administrative restrictions on the exercise of free speech (prior reservations, excessive limits on length or frequency of demonstrations, etc.) are disregarding their obligation to uphold the First Amendment rights of their students. Our students deserve much better.

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Schools: San Francisco State University Cases: San Francisco State University: Students Investigated for Stepping on Flags