TEMPLE, Texas, November 6, 2008—In a victory for freedom of expression, Temple College President Glenda O. Barron has quickly reversed the censorship of a religiously themed cartoon and the Nietzsche quotation "God is dead." After Mark Smith, Interim Vice President of Educational Services and Chief Academic Officer, forced English Professor Kerry Laird's postings to be removed from his office door, Laird turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.
"President Barron should be commended for her prompt reversal of her subordinate's unconstitutional censorship," FIRE Vice President Robert L. Shibley said. "This is a classic example of a college reversing course once its censorship is exposed to public view."
In the fall term of 2008, Laird posted a cartoon on his office door that used profanity in satirizing a passage from the Bible's Second Book of Kings. On October 23, 2008, Smith demanded that the cartoon be removed. Later that day, Laird posted the line "Gott ist tot" ("God is dead"), a quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, on his office door. This line became the second target of Temple College's censorship when Smith demanded that the quotation be removed. Demonstrating a lack of understanding of harassment law, Smith inappropriately invoked the specter of religious harassment: "Simply posting a cartoon or note on a door that can be considered offensive, insightful [sic], and/or controversial is not a part of academic freedom and does not reflect well on Temple College and has the potential of creating a hostile or intimidating learning/work environment."
A faculty member and a student both pointed out to Smith that he was applying a double standard against Laird's protected expression, noting that Christian expression is visible to students across campus. Nevertheless, Smith dismissed their concerns, stating that Laird's postings "can be considered very controversial and offensive."
FIRE wrote and faxed a letter to President Barron on November 5, demanding that Temple College, a public college near Waco, restore Laird's constitutional rights. Within approximately half an hour, President Barron reversed Smith's censorship of both the cartoon and the quotation. In an e-mail sent to all faculty and staff, Barron wrote that the censorship "was inappropriate."
"Other colleges should take President Barron's lead and quickly address violations of individual rights," Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, said. "When expression is so obviously protected, there is simply no reason to censor or to delay judgment."
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation's colleges and universities. FIRE's efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Adam Kissel, Director, Individual Rights Defense Program, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
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