Play sparks controversy at WSU

July 15, 2005

A student play that includes racial and religious slurs has created a free speech dispute at Washington State University.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has asked WSU President V. Lane Rawlins to renounce his support of people who disrupted a performance of "Passion of the Musical" in April.

"Performing a play is constitutionally protected free speech," the group said in its letter. "However, disrupting a play is not."

In a short letter sent Wednesday, Rawlins thanked FIRE for its interest and suggestions, without addressing the incident directly.

Student Chris Lee wrote and staged "Passion of the Musical," a musical parody of the final days of Jesus Christ, on campus in April.

The play includes racial epithets, ethnic stereotypes and irreverent jokes about religion. Lee likens it to "South Park" or "Chapelle's Show," two popular, boundary-pushing television shows.

"My purpose was to create something so offensive it couldn't be offensive," Lee said.

The play included a song called "I Will Always Hate Jews," to the tune of "I Will Always Love You," as well as a scene with Jesus as a zombie, and one with Lucifer singing "Hell is So Sweet."

Particularly controversial was the use of "nigger" and other racial epithets. Lee, who is black, said the play used the words to comic and satiric effect.

"Pontius Pilate was a racist, but none of it is rewarded," he said. "We weren't applauding his racism."

But some students and faculty were upset. A group of about 40 attended the final performance April 21 and shouted "I am offended" during portions of the play. Lee said the shouts also included death threats, and he interrupted the play to argue with the audience...

Schools: Washington State University Cases: Washington State University: Administrative Support for Heckler’s Veto of Student Play