FIRE’s case at Tarrant County College (TCC)—where administrators prohibited students from holding an ’empty holster’ protest—has garnered significant media attention. The Associated Press covered the story on Friday, quoting FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley on the unconstitutionality of the ban:
Robert L. Shibley, vice president for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said wearing empty holsters is similar to students donning black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War, a right that the Supreme Court upheld in 1969.
“It’s important because it’s a matter of symbolic speech,” Shibley said.
He also said several campus free-speech zones had been ruled unconstitutional because they limited free speech, including Texas Tech University’s 20-foot diameter gazebo that was the designated zone for 28,000 students.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram also reported on the case on Friday, quoting FIRE President Greg Lukianoff:
“TCC has cast aside decades-old Supreme Court precedent strongly protecting symbolic expression by refusing to recognize its students’ right to wear empty holsters to make their point,” Greg Lukianoff, president of the foundation, said in a statement. “The students were using the empty holsters to protest policies that they believe render students defenseless. They have every right to engage in this symbolic protest, and TCC’s cynical attempt to ban dissenting views is both shameful and transparent.”
In the Star-Telegram article, TCC Vice President for Student Development Juan Garcia offered the college’s unbelievably weak explanation for denying its students their constitutional right to free expression:
“We’re protecting the learning environment,” Garcia said. “From a distance, you can’t tell if a holster is empty or not.”
This explanation is so pathetic that it pretty much speaks for itself, but longtime FIRE ally Professor David Ross (whose pointed questions to wayward administrators have been featured on these pages many times) had this to say in an e-mail to Vice President Garcia: “Is this it, Vice President Garcia, is this your argument for shutting down protest of TCC policies, and for doing so in violation of the Constitution? That students are edgy, and perhaps a bit weak in their capacities for visual discrimination?”
We are eagerly awaiting Garcia’s response to this question.