So far we in this series we have covered Occidental College’s violation of student Jason Antebi’s free speech rights, its ruthless and dishonest campaign to justify its actions, and how it used this incident as an excuse to dissolve the entire student government. This installment deals with the ACLU of Southern California’s involvement in the case and Occidental College General Counsel Sandra Cooper’s incredible assertion that her interpretation of ACLU policy is more accurate than that of the managing attorney of the ACLU of Southern California!
As you may recall, in her response to FIRE, Cooper claimed that the ACLU’s definition of harassment actually supported the college’s decision to punish a radio “shock jock” for his on-air speech. Having worked for the ACLU of Northern California and having myself read the ACLU’s statement on harassment, I found this a stunningly incorrect assertion. But rather than taking my word for it, we contacted the ACLU of Southern California.
On May 7, 2004, Peter Eliasberg, the managing attorney of the ACLU of Southern California, wrote to
Cooper stating in no uncertain terms, “[Y]ou are incorrect to assert that the ACLU’s policy justifies punishing Mr. Antebi for his speech.”
So how does Oxy respond to this? It essentially said, “What the hell does he know about the ACLU?” Check out Occidental student reporter Dane Muckler’s coverage of this aspect of the Antebi saga from his October 2004 article “Oxy Caught in the Crossfire”:
The ACLU Gets Involved: But are they “for real?”
Only days after Cooper sent out her first letter to FIRE, managing attorney Peter Eliasberg of the ACLU of Southern California sent a letter to Cooper informing her that they are “extremely concerned about Occidental’s decision to punish Jason Antebi for sexual harassment and your attempt to rely on the ACLU’s position on unprotected harassment to justify that decision.”
According to the ACLU, Antebi’s “sophomoric insults” do not constitute as sexual harassment because they “were spoken during a radio program, rather than ‘addressed directly’ to the complaining students and because the speech is not frightening or intimidating even if it is insulting.” The ACLU also expressed distress over Cooper’s allegations that Antebi had committed a wide range of other harassing acts without offering any evidence that the acts have been committed by Antebi.
Cooper says that shortly after receiving the ACLU letter, she telephoned Peter Eliasberg to ask him “if he was for real.” Eliasberg insisted that he was and reiterated the ACLU position that speech has to be directed to the target in order to be harassment. Eliasberg said he was most disturbed by the section in her letter where she made accusations against Antebi without offering proof.
“When Cooper called me, she threw out a lot of things and told me ‘I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to show he was involved [in them],’” Eliasberg said.
Cooper said that she did not discuss specifics of the case with the ACLU and said that Eliasberg’s letter constituted a radical departure from ACLU policy. She suggested that Peter Eliasberg did not represent the ACLU.
“The correct ACLU policy is on their website,” she added.
Peter Eliasberg, who has been the managing attorney for the Southern California Chapter of the ACLU since 1999, said he was insulted by Cooper’s remark and commented that the ACLU has been consistent in its definition of sexual harassment since it drafted its policy in 1999.
So Sandra Cooper is claiming to understand ACLU policy better than the ACLU! Despite being told they were wrong by the ACLU directly, Oxy employees are still using the ACLU’s policies to justify its actions against Jason Antebi.
I plan to run this incident by Nadine Strossen, the president of the ACLU, to see what she thinks. Then again, considering how deluded Cooper seems at times, I wouldn’t be surprised if she dismissed Strossen as being wrong about ACLU policy if she disagreed with Cooper’s interpretation of ACLU policies.
Next installment: the media coverage of the Oxy case and my disappointment with the Los Angeles Times!