SPOKANE, WA—Gonzaga University has reaffirmed the value of freedom of speech after unfairly disciplining a student group for posting fliers with allegedly "discriminatory" language. In response to a letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), President Robert J. Spitzer agreed to rescind punishment of the Gonzaga College Republicans. The group had been disciplined after it posted fliers containing the word "hates" as part of the title of an upcoming speaker’s book: Why the Left Hates America.
"It is a dark day when universities in a free society start banning everyday words. In this context, it is especially bizarre. You can’t very well eradicate ‘hate’—as some administrators claim they are determined to do—if you can’t even utter the word," said Greg Lukianoff, director of legal and public advocacy for FIRE. "We are pleased, however, that President Spitzer acted so quickly to undo this bizarre miscarriage of justice."
The allegedly discriminatory flier advertised an upcoming speech by Daniel J. Flynn, author of the book Why the Left Hates America. The flier, which Gonzaga had pre-approved, contained the title of the book in large letters with the words "left hates" emphasized. Some members of the Gonzaga community complained about the fliers to administrators, and many were torn down—in violation of Gonzaga’s own rules.
In fact, at least two were torn down by administrators. "When I saw the poster," explained Director of Student Activities David Lindsay to The Gonzaga Bulletin, "I took one down because our publicity policy says that we don’t allow hate speech to be posted around campus."
Instead of punishing the censors, however, Gonzaga’s administration forced the College Republicans to change the wording of the flier to make it clearer that the words were part of a book title. When the complaints from offended students continued, administrators chose to place a disciplinary letter in the group’s file for using the words "the left hates" on the fliers, suggesting that that use of the word "hate" was "discriminatory" and might constitute "hate speech."
Paul Schafer, president of the College Republicans, said, "I never imagined that someone would call the title of a book discriminatory hate speech."
In an October 20 letter, FIRE warned President Spitzer that "Gonzaga University has, in effect, declared that some viewpoints—and even the use of certain words—can and should be silenced." President Spitzer, to his credit, responded quickly and assured FIRE that the letter had been removed from the College Republicans’ file and that the administration would hold meetings with the group to address any lingering concerns.
Paul Schafer thanked FIRE for its help, saying, "We are tremendously grateful for FIRE’s assistance with our case. FIRE is an outstanding organization that has once again helped preserve free speech on a college campus."
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 on our campuses of higher education. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at campuses across America can be seen by visiting www.thefire.org.
Greg Lukianoff, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Father Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., President, Gonzaga University : 509-328-4220; email@example.com