By Mariana Viera at Student Press Law Center
NEW JERSEY — Brookdale Community College has suspended a student for posting offensive and sexually violent tweets about former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s daughter.
The college announced the suspension of Adam Nagel on Facebook Monday, saying he was “summarily suspended and will be scheduled for a conduct hearing where further disciplinary action will be taken,” and that Brookdale Police are investigating the student.
University spokeswoman Avis McMillon said Nagel was suspended because his “unacceptable” tweets “violate the standard of conduct that we expect of our students.”
Will Creeley, the vice president of legal and public advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said he finds the situation troubling because Nagel’s tweets, though offensive, appear to be protected speech because they do not constitute a true threat.
A true threat is speech a reasonable person would interpret as communication expressing a real and serious intent to inflict unlawful violence.
“It seems like the kind of situation where you have a nationally-famous athlete, you have national media attention, and in the face of that attention, the school may have thrown its student’s First Amendment rights underneath the bus,” Creeley said.
On Feb. 25, Schilling announced on Twitter that his daughter, Gabby Schilling, would be playing softball at Salve Regina University. Nagel, who is a member of the college’s radio club and hosts a weekly radio show, responded to Schilling’s announcement with sexually-suggestive comments.
Schilling said in a blogpost on Sunday though many wrote congratulatory responses, many responded with “tweets with the word rape, bloody underwear and pretty much every other vulgar and defiling word you could likely fathom.”
McMillon said Nagel “clearly violated” the Brookdale code of conduct, which says students may not disregard the rights of others to be free from verbal abuse or harassment.
Nagel’s Twitter account was suspended. He could not be reached for comment.
Creeley said FIRE is troubled by the increasing trend of schools and universities punishing students for online, off-campus speech that is often unrelated to the institution.
“It can’t be the case that a public university student has agreed to have all of their online statements subject to punishment and discipline if they offend a campus administrator,” Creeley said. “That just cannot be the standard consistent with the First Amendment.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to address the issue of online student speech, but some lower courts have ruled that off-campus speech does not lose its First Amendment protection if someone is offended and complains about it to school administrators.
“I would ask administrators both at Brookdale and nationwide to remember that even deeply offensive speech is more often than not protected by the First Amendment,” Creeley said.