As FIRE reflects on the events of the past twelve months, it seems to me it might be appropriate to recognize the one university whose disgraceful mistreatment of liberty included the most blatant double standard of the year. And in my humble opinion, that distinction goes to Florida’s Indian River Community College, whose feigned prudery meant a little Mel Gibson was just too much for its students to handle, but a play called “F**king for Jesus” was okay.
It seems like centuries ago now, but IRCC made national headlines at the very beginning of 2005 for banning a campus Christian group from screening The Passion of the Christ. Here’s how our January 14 press release summarized the situation:
[The Christian Student Fellowship’s] trouble began on November 15, 2004, when IRCC administrators first rejected fliers advertising the club’s screening of The Passion of the Christ and then cancelled the event altogether. CSF reported that one administrator, Lori LaCivita, stated that the reason for these actions was that the film was R-rated. Students also told FIRE that in early December, after CSF wrote Dean of Student Affairs Johnny Moore and President Massey in an effort to restore its rights, CSF President Preslin Isaac and Vice President Sydney Franklin were pulled out of class by LaCivita and other administrators, who demanded that the students write letters of apology to Dean Moore and President Massey for having addressed the college’s “higher authority” without their permission.When appealing to the IRCC administration proved fruitless, CSF contacted FIRE for assistance. On December 16, FIRE wrote IRCC to explain that its actions against CSF were unconstitutional and violated its own policies, which emphasize that at IRCC “students are treated as mature adults.”
Had that been the end of the story, this case would have been heinous enough. A public university prohibiting its adult students from showing R-rated movies? Come on!
But as is so often the case with our modern universities, the truth was even more heinous than you’d think. Quoth the same press release:
In a December 22 response, IRCC’s attorney claimed that the college maintained a blanket ban on R-rated movies, arguing that because the college contains some dual-enrollment high school students, it would be “inappropriate” to risk having these students “wander into R-rated movies that they would not normally be able to see.” The attorney further demonstrated IRCC’s mistrust of liberty by stating that if the college allowed constitutionally protected free speech on its campus, “[o]ne could only imagine the bizarre clubs and activities that would be formed.” Yet at the college’s Wynne Black Box Theatre, a project called No Shame Theatre has hosted skits that would earn an R-rating in any movie house. One such skit, entitled “F**king for Jesus,” involved a character simulating sex with and masturbating to an image of Jesus (the script is available here).FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Greg Lukianoff remarked, “If IRCC has consistently prevented adult students from showing R-rated movies on campus, it has imposed on them an unconstitutional, paternalistic, and patronizing rule. IRCC’s recent actions make it more likely that IRCC has singled out The Passion of the Christ for censorship in an astonishing instance of unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination and abuse of administrative power. Either way, the college has shown extraordinary arrogance and foolishness.”
Right on, Greg. And as a subsequent press release pointed out, IRCC also sponsored a showing of the R-rated film Welcome to Sarajevo. No movies more racy than PG-13, eh?
Not surprisingly, IRCC took a beating in the media—including an appearance on ABC World News Tonight—and promptly surrendered. Even the story of the most despicable double standard of 2005 had a happy ending thanks to FIRE!