NOTE: The article excerpted on this page is from an outside publication and is posted on FIRE's website because it references FIRE's work. The viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily represent FIRE's positions.
By Marie Hamer at The College Redeemer
Think how hard you work during the school year. All the time and effort you put into classes and extra-curricular activities. Think about how much time you spend on campus. You develop a liking and respect for the institution you have put so much time in at. Imagine yourself putting in all the long hours, doing all the work you do and now being sued by your university, simply for hosting a speaker to campusin your attempt to educate and inspire your fellow students. That is exactly what happened to California Polytechnic student, Steve Hinkle.
In November of 2002, the Cal Poly College Republicans brought speaker Mason Weaver to campus. As is commonplace with any speaking event, publicity was necessary, so Hinkle helped distribute the flyers for the event. The flyer simply contained the time and place of the lecture, as well as a photo of Mr. Weaver and the title of his book, “Its OK to Leave the Plantation.” In his book, Weaver, a black man, argues that dependence on government puts many African-Americans in a situation similar to slavery.
When hanging a flyer in the campus Multicultural Center, several students objected to the flyer, calling it “offensive.” Hinkle offered to discuss the flyer with the students, but the offer was simply met with threats to call university police. After Hinkle left, university police were called and responded to complaints about “a suspicious white male passing out literature of an offensive, racial nature.” The students claimed to be having a meeting, even though no record of any such meeting could be found.
In March of 2003, after a seven hour hearing, where Hinkle was not allowed to have an attorney present, the Cal Poly Judicial Affairs Office found him guilty of “disruption of a campus event.” He was threatened with expulsion if he did not write letters of apology to the students, which had to be first approved by the Cal Poly administrators. Then Hinkle began to fight back. He called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, as it is commonly known. The group took on the case. FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation which unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and intellectuals from across the ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, and due process on our nation’s college campuses.
On September 25, Cal Poly President Warren Baker and other school administrators were sued in federal court for violating Hinkle’s First Amendment rights. “It is unfortunate that that Cal Poly administrators refused to fulfill their obligations to the Constitution” commented Thor Halvorssen, CEO of FIRE, “If President Baker will not defend the basic free speech rights of his students, we will.” The complaint requests that the court overturn Cal Poly’s punishment of Hinkle and his record be cleared. It also asks for the court to deem Cal Poly’s definition of the word “disruption” as unconstitutional and it was used to punish free and protected speech. The lawsuit was filed by FIRE Legal Network in cooperation with the Center for Individual Rights. “We are committed to seeing this case through to a just conclusion,” said CIR President Terry Pell, “It s unfortunate that Cal Poly has forced us to resort to the courts to protect the civil rights of its students.”
Download file "Cal Poly Student Found Guilty of Disrupting Campus Events"