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False Harassment Accusations: A Moral Outrage

FIRE proudly announced today that Jihad Daniel, a student and employee at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., has finally been cleared of outrageous sexual harassment charges for the “offense” of expressing a religious disagreement with homosexuality and requesting that he not be sent any more mass e-mails about it. That someone of the Islamic faith would have a religious objection to homosexuality should surprise no one, but even the private expression of religious belief can get you in trouble on America’s campuses.

And harassment is serious trouble. Even the smallest hint of harassment in a person’s file can be a career-ender. Imagine you were hiring for a position, and two candidates came to you, one with a harassment finding in his file and one without. If all other things were equal, whom would you hire? This isn’t a hard choice—after all, even putting moral considerations aside, one would assume that hiring the “harasser” would be legally far riskier than hiring the person whose file is squeaky-clean. Indeed, the whole point of putting a letter in someone’s file branding him or her as a harasser is to hurt his or her career prospects. People know this, and it acts as a serious deterrent to boorish behavior.

It is difficult to find strong enough words to condemn the abuse of sexual harassment regulations to silence unpopular speech (see, for instance, the case of Tim Garneau). Not only is it a horrendous injustice to brand someone a harasser who simply isn’t, but every time someone does it, it lowers the societal resistance to harassing behavior. If employers start to realize that a significant percentage of those branded as harassers are nothing of the sort, their resistance to hiring or promoting those people will decrease. This will inevitably lead to greater opportunities and power for those who really have committed serious acts of sexual harassment. How, precisely, does this benefit women—or anyone else—in the educational or workplace environment?

Real sexual harassment is a serious problem that can ruin the lives of completely innocent people. Some of the sexual harassment stories out there are truly appalling. This is why, time and time again, FIRE says that to brand something harassment when it clearly is nothing of the sort “dangerously trivializes real harassment.” It is a moral outrage that there are those who will risk a higher incidence of real and serious sexual harassment merely to silence those who inconveniently disagree with their opinions. WPU and other universities that facilitate these bogus claims of harassment need to realize that for every abuse of harassment policy they tolerate, they increase the chance that a woman or man out there will be subjected to real and concrete abuses. There can be no moral justification for this, and it needs to stop. FIRE will continue to work unceasingly to make sure it does.

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