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Pace Not a Bastion of Free Expression for Christian Group

On Monday, the New York Post published an article contrasting two university presidents’ attitudes toward free speech—Lee Bollinger of Columbia and David Caputo of Pace University.
Bollinger, as Torch readers doubtless know, despite being a constitutional lawyer by trade, has repeatedly ignored the free speech rights of his students, only belatedly standing up for those rights on occasion.
The Post article distinguishes Bollinger’s “acquiescence in letting speech be muzzled” from Caputo’s willingness to come forth and apologize after expression was squelched on his campus. After reports came out that Pace administrators intimidated the Jewish group Hillel into not showing the controversial film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” Caputo said, according to the Post, “I want both to assure [Hillel’s members] that no such coercion or intimidation was intended and to apologize for any action that may have unfortunately led to that belief.” Hillel’s screening of “Obsession” has been rescheduled and will take place this semester.
While this apology is a start, we should not smile too approvingly upon the state of free expression at Pace. Let it not be forgotten that FIRE has an ongoing case at Pace Law School, where the Christian Law Students Association (CLSA) was denied recognition in November because the Student Bar Association (SBA) thought that the group wouldn’t be welcoming enough to non-Christians. Similarly, the SBA denied recognition to the Muslim Law Students Association, though students from that group did not accept FIRE’s offer of help.
After FIRE wrote to Pace Law School Dean Stephen Friedman and issued a press release, Pace decided to recognize the CLSA. The condition of recognition, however, was that university counsel would make revisions to the constitution, presumably to the explicit statements about the organization’s Christian mission. Three months after FIRE got involved, the legal counsel still has not released those revisions.
We’re left wondering, what changes do the lawyers have? Will they make the group downplay its Christian mission? Forcing revisions upon a group’s constitution is no small matter and could involve serious changes to the religious character of the group and infringements upon group members’ expression. FIRE sent a second letter to Pace today to urge administrators to make public the legal counsel’s changes to the constitution. Until those changes are made explicit, we will not know if the CLSA is allowed to function as it sees fit, and recognition is therefore not yet fully complete.
While the Post is right that Bollinger has a long way to go before free speech will be adequately respected on the Columbia campus, we should be wary of too hastily extolling the free speech virtues of Pace.

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