Fighting for free speech on campus

July 10, 2007

Filed under: Higher ed

Students at San Francisco State University are suing the school for its attempt to prosecute them for stepping on paper copies of a flag during a demonstration in October. How’s that again? Don’t administrators defend students’ right to burn actual flags, let alone step on imitation ones? A press release from Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education , explains:

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the SFSU College Republicans and two of the group’s members, undergraduates Leigh Wolf and Trent Downes. SFSU’s College Republicans were put on trial by a campus tribunal this past spring for stepping on makeshift Hamas and Hezbollah flags as part of an anti-terrorism rally they held in October, 2006. FIRE wrote twice to SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan to stress that no American public university can lawfully prosecute students for engaging in peaceful protest or for “desecrating” flags of any kind. The university ignored this warning, with a university spokesperson telling the San Francisco Chronicle that the issue was not flag desecration but rather “the desecration of Allah.” Despite having the power to dismiss the charges at any time, SFSU dragged the plaintiffs through a five-month investigation and hearing before ultimately clearing the group of “harassment” charges.

 “The Supreme Court ruled long ago that the First Amendment protects the right to burn even an American flag in political protest. There are no special protections for Hamas and Hezbollah flags. SFSU knew this, and there is no excuse for putting these students through a five-month ordeal. We hope the lawsuit will stop the university from committing future abuses,” Lukianoff said.

FIRE is supporting the plaintiffs as part of its Speech Codes Litigation Project, with legal assistance from the Alliance Defense Fund, a Phoenix-based non-profit primarily dedicated to protecting religious liberties.

About linsee

Linda Seebach retired in 2007 from the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where she was an editorial writer and columnist.
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