sparkThese days it is hard to tell the difference between the two, so let’s play a little game. You guess which is which.

  1. A student is denied the right to distribute the school paper that he edits because it used the word “retarded” to describe the school lunch policy.  Though the student himself is “handicapable” and uses crutches to walk, the principal held that the use of the word was offensive to people with disabilities and can “hurt their hearts.” The student editor stated that the word was used in an op-ed piece written by another student and he won’t “allow anything that might taint the truth behind what people are thinking” and doesn’t want “people to be afraid of words if it stops them from having a dialogue.” The principal refused the first amendment right of a free press and said the paper could not be distributed on campus unless he approved it first.
  2. A student group is denied funds for their poker night because the prizes to be awarded to the winners are a handgun and a rifle. The stated goal of the event was to encourage discussion regarding the ban on carrying concealed firearms on campus. The student union ruled that the event was “fostering an un-safe space” and denied the funding request.  Though the University is a gun free zone which makes it a prime target for would be campus shooters, and the guns were being donated and would only be given to students off campus in accordance with federal and state laws, the group was not granted funding for the food and space rental. In addition the University Housing Office denied approval for the posters promoting the event because possession of firearms is not allowed in the residence halls and UHO, “doesn’t allow for advertising in the residence halls that encourages anything that is prohibited in our code of conduct.” At no time would firearms be on campus during this event. Removing any visual reference to the weapons was not deemed sufficient to garner approval for the posters for an event that was designed to talk about gun policy.

Figured it out?  Item 1 was from a recent Southpark episode and item 2 was a news story from the University of Oregon.  Though the Southpark episode went on to show Politically Correct Principal breaking down over his inability to stay on the politically correct side of an issue being promoted by people he had sworn to protect, the situation at the Associated Students of the University of Oregon meeting deteriorated into an even bigger game of  whack-a-mole to “find the downtrodden to defend.”

When it seemed that anti-second amendment positions were not swaying the ASUO enough, the student President suggested that funding be denied because “there are people who are addicted to gambling who would not be able to attend. Gambling addiction negatively affects marginalized communities.”

But wait, there’s more. Just to make sure we haven’t left any oppressed community out of the discussion, an audience member complained, “since some members of the campus weren’t old enough to win the prizes the event was in fact ‘ageist.’” You can’t make this stuff up.

Though the University Housing office was firm on their position that they wouldn’t approve posters for events that encourage things that are prohibited in their housing policy, they did allow notices for a candlelight vigil to remember former UO president Dave Frohnmayer held in May of this year, even though their housing policy clearly states, “Incendiary materials, fireworks, explosives of any nature, and highly flammable materials [i.e. candles] , including halogen lamps are not permitted on University property or in the residence halls due to the extreme fire danger involved and to the threat these items pose to the larger community.” No comment from the office about the posters for events that allowed drinking though that is also against campus policy.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has written to UO President Michael Schill to advise him that  the refusal by both the ASU and the UHO “are impermissibly based on the viewpoint of the student organization’s expression in direct violation of YAL’s clearly established First Amendment rights, and they must be immediately reversed.”  In addition, they are in violation of the University’s own policy which notes that “ASUO’s budget is subsidized by mandatory fees paid by students. ASUO is obligated to distribute all funds for student programming in a viewpoint-neutral manner, so that no student organization is discriminated against on the basis of its views and ideas.”

FIRE wrote,

“The ASUO has demonstrably failed in adhering to this obligation. Because UO has delegated authority with respect to the distribution of mandatory student fees, the ASUO acts as an agent of the university. In turn, UO is therefore both legally and morally responsible for any violations of the First Amendment perpetrated by the ASUO.”

What brings this story into a blog about Missouri is the Supreme Court case cited by FIRE in their letter to Schill, Papish v. Board of Curators of the University of Missouri, 410 U.S. 667, 670 (1973) . In this decision, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that public universities could not punish students for indecent or offensive speech that did not disrupt campus order or interfere with the rights of others. The opinion stated, “[T]he mere dissemination of ideas—no matter how offensive to good taste—on a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of  ‘conventions of decency.’”

From the FIRE letter,

“Indeed, much expression facilitated by student organizations is likely to make others uncomfortable. Can a pro-life organization be denied funding for its event on the basis that it makes students who are pro-choice, or those who have terminated a pregnancy, uncomfortable? Can an event supporting the cause of Palestinians be denied funding due to the discomfort it might inflict on students who support Israel’s policies? Clearly, the answer is “no.” Were it otherwise, funding for student organizations would be limited to the most banal events that avoid discussing any matter of social or political import. Such a result is both legally and morally untenable.”

The evidence given by aggrieved students at U of M recently  is tenuous at best. The best documented instance was of the drunken white student who interrupted the Royalty Court practice. No one’s rights were denied. Practice went on as did the official Court event. Perhaps the U of M Board of Curators should review that Supreme Court decision again to make sure they are following what everyone knows is “the law of the land.”

Southpark has risen to the Erasmussian challenge by satirizing the PC world of today. But when it is really hard to tell the difference between real life and a comedy central cartoon, maybe it is time to change the channel.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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