University of Wisconsin-Stout theater professor James Miller has become a firecracker in a debate over free speech after he posted a controversial poster in front of his office door on September 12. The poster was from the short-lived sci-fi television series “Firefly.” What did it say? Here’s a copy:
The poster’s quote was apparently deemed offensive by some, including UW-Stout Police Chief Lisa Walter, who took down Miller’s poster and e-mailed him on September 16. The higher education free-speech group FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) obtained copies:
I wanted to notify you that I removed a printed/copy (pictures attached) of a poster from the outside of your office. I don’t know if you posted it or if someone else placed it on your board, but it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing.
I knocked on your office door while there, but it appeared as though you were not in your office at the time. Contact me if you have any questions.
Miller was none too pleased. His response to Walter avoided pleasantries:
Unacceptable to whom?
How dare you act in a fascistic manner and then sign your email “respectfully!” Respect liberty and respect my first amendment rights.
The back-and-forth continued, with Walter using her second e-mail to threaten Miller with disorderly conduct charges. Miller responded:
Don’t threaten me with charges that have no basis in reality–I am a committed pacifist and a devotee of non-violence, and I don’t appreciate card carrying members of the NRA who are wearing side arms and truncheons lecturing me about violence.
Later on September 16, Miller upped the ante by placing this new poster on his office door in reaction to Walter’s censorship:
He eventually went to FIRE for support after College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Interim Dean Raymond Hayes scheduled a meeting with Miller about “the concerns raised by the campus threat assessment team.”
FIRE explains that it reached out to the university:
“On September 21, FIRE wrote UWS Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen, explaining that the posters are not a credible threat, nor would any reasonable person expect them to cause a substantial disruption. In Virginia v. Black (2003), the Supreme Court defined true threats, as an exception to the First Amendment, as only ‘those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.’”
Chancellor Sorensen has not yet responded to FIRE‘s call to end their censorship of Miller’s speech, apologize to Miller, and rescind its request for a meeting about the threat assessment team’s inexplicable concerns.
More than 200 Miller supporters have already written to UW-Stout Chancellor Charles Sorensen, demanding that he respect free speech at UWS.