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Projecting Slogans Onto Campus Buildings Is Inflaming Tensions - Should Be Banned
Many Universities Are Limited in Their Permitted Responses to Anti-Semitic Speech
Even though the First Amendment at state schools - and binding university guarantees of free speech at private ones - limit what universities can legally do in response to speech which is anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, or otherwise provocative, there is a simple non-controversial step which institutions of higher education can and should take now before this dangerous new tactic spreads to other campuses and even to other controversial issues, warns public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
As law professor Howard Wasserman has explained, "Much antisemitic speech (as with most hate speech) is constitutionally protected. Horrible and unnerving, but constitutionally protected. It takes a lot for speech to cross the line into harassment, incitement, fighting words, or true threats. Much of what we have seen on campuses the past 24 days does not cross (or even come near) that line."
So Professor Banzhaf, who has been a champion of free speech at his own university as well as on other campuses, has suggested to administrators at both GWU and Penn that they adopt a simple and non-controversial rule - and one completely consistent with First Amendment guarantees and free speech concerns - which simply bans all projections on campus buildings, regardless of the cause or message involved.
The law professor notes that such a policy would be fully consistent with generally accepted First Amendment norms and free speech policies because the proposed rule is completely content neutral; what courts have termed constitutional and acceptable "time, place, and manner" restrictions which apply regardless of the cause or message.
All universities have a valid and perfectly legitimate reason for prohibiting images from being projected onto its buildings and other property. When it occurs, many assume that the university is complicit, regardless of the message, and seek to blame the institution for whatever message may be projected.
They also demand - as many members of Congress and others have already done regarding GWU and Penn - that the relevant institution of higher education expel the students responsible, and take appropriate action to prevent any recurrences - even if by law it cannot do so.
The proposed amendment would protect a university and its incredibly valuable public image by prohibiting one specific form of protest which is especially inflammatory;