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Law Profs Protect Free Speech on Campus, Finally
Two Force Stanford U to Back Down, Follow its Own Free Speech Policy
But now, in a sharp reversal, and a good example of what only a few voices crying in the wilderness can do, Stanford University was forced to back down from a situation in which it initially not only supported but actually cooperated with students destroying property because it contained a satirical message which displeased them, and to follow its own written policy, by a few of its law professors. Here's what happened.
First, Stanford students seeking to protect illegal immigrants flooded the campus with over 200 flyers asking everyone to report any enforcement activity by ICE agents. Then, in response, another student, Isaac Kipust, posted a small number of flyers asking people to report "Legitimate Law Enforcement Activity - Authorities Doing Their Job." It was obviously satirical, and in fact said so at the bottom.
But this prompted several students, who claimed the counter flyers literally brought them to tears, to file a complaint saying they felt "unsafe and hurt," and then to work with RAs to tear down Kipust's few satirical posters. Since this was a clear violation of the free speech rights Stanford has guaranteed to all its students, one might reasonable expect that those - including especially the campus employees - who tore down the posters to be disciplined, says Banzhaf, but exactly the opposite occurred.
Instead, the free speech advocate was told by Stanford that the other three students' "feelings trumped my right to express speech others might find objectionable,"
Professor Peter Berkowitz accompanied Kipust to the meeting, and brought with him a "strongly worded defense" of free speech from Professor Michael McConnell. That's all it took.
Stanford backed down, agreeing that it was wrong to tear down the posters, and agreeing, finally one hopes, to obey its own written guarantees of free speech, reports Banzhaf.
Recently, when GWU tried to expel a student for briefly posting a religious symbol which resembled a swastika - although even a real swastika is protected by free speech - Banzhaf helped to trigger a barrage of legal threats, universal condemnation and ridicule, complaints from many religious leaders, and even a threat to reduce alumni contributions. As a result, GWU backed down, although they are now embroiled in another situation involving a post on Snapchat many students object to.
Law professors who support free speech must do more than write academic articles; they use their tremendous influence when violations occur on their own campuses, Banzhaf urges.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH),
2000 H Street, NW, Wash, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418