Administrators at San Francisco State University should be required to write the First Amendment 500 times on the board. Maybe then they will remember it the next time they are seized with the urge to trample on the constitutional rights of SFSU students espousing unpopular or politically incorrect opinions, either in word or in symbolic speech. In the meantime, two civil liberties groups have hauled SFSU into federal court to answer for the school’s gross abuse of the constitutional rights of students Leigh Wolfe and Trent Downe.
Wolfe and Downe are members of SFSU’s College Republican chapter. Earlier this year, SFSU administrators put the two through a show trial before a student tribunal that required five months of litigation before charges were dropped. The intimidating process was based on a complaint by another student who claimed Wolfe and Downe stepped on Hamas and Hezbollah flags during an anti-terrorism rally on campus in 2006.
Protests involving stepping on, burning or otherwise taunting flags have an honored tradition in America, but at SFSU the two offending students were accused of creating “a hostile environment,” engaging in “acts of incivility” and “inciting violence.”
Such acts were deemed crimes under SFSU’s speech code that is routinely used to suppress unapproved political speech. This suppression is an all-too-common occurrence in our state because the speech code at SFSU reflects that which is found throughout the California university system.
President Robert Corrigan and a host of his fellow SFSU administrators have been named in the suit filed by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Phoenix-based group that focuses on the protection of religious liberty, in cooperation with the highly successful Speech Code Litigation Project of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a Philadelphia-based civil liberties group.
Similar lawsuits were successfully prosecuted by FIRE against abusive speech codes at California’s Citrus College, Texas Tech, State University of New York at Bridgeport and Shippensburg University. Sooner or later, college administrators on public campuses are going to get the message that they cannot use speech codes to suppress political speech of any kind. SFSU will do everybody a favor by simply repealing its unconstitutional code and stop making some political views more welcome than others.