Freedom of speech gets shut down at Duquesne

Who likes to use Facebook? Despite getting an occasional piece of hate mail here and there, I thoroughly enjoy browsing over my friends’ kooky sayings, favorite movies or anti-Bush groups.

In all seriousness, the online yearbook, as I like to describe it to old people who have never heard of it, has inadvertently become the host of a new controversy surrounding free speech. Although this information has not been given too much attention, it is a case which I think we all should be interested in because it reveals a disturbing trend in universities across this nation.

Duquesne University sophomore Ryan Miner wrote something on Facebook that most people, including me, would cringe at. He referred to homosexuals as subhuman. While many of you know that I am strongly opposed to same sex marriage and believe homosexuality is a sin, I believe that everyone is loved by God and deserves dignity and respect.

This being established, Duquesne, did something that made me cringe even more. They punished him for it. The Catholic university came down hard, demanding that he remove the offending post and write a 10-page paper on the Roman Catholic Church and its position on gays and lesbians. He removed the post but refused to write the paper citing his First Amendment right to freedom of speech, and currently faces expulsion.

I am sure there are some people who are outraged that Miner was only sentenced to a measly 10-page paper and not immediately incarcerated for his impudence.

I am of the opinion, however, that it is not the role of the school or anyone to regulate his speech. Heinous as his comments may seem, this man did not shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, so there is no legal reason to punish him for things he said.

The politically correct crowd who created these shadowy academic speech or tolerance codes across the nation are a sad, paranoid group of people who are obsessed with preventing anyone from ever being offended ever again. Newsflash, it’s not going to happen, and its wrong for them to decide what acceptable speech is.

Yet Duquesne has the audacity to think that it can.

Susan Monahan, director of Judicial Affairs at Duquesne, said these words to Duquesne’s student newspaper: “Duquesne deals with any judicial violation that occurs, whether it is on Facebook or off-campus. If a student brings something to my attention that proves a violation of the code, I have no choice other than to adjudicate.”

Let’s take a look at this code which prohibits “harassment or discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or citizenship status, age, disability or veterans status …”

Not only is this sentence seriously bordering on unconstitutionality, but Miner’s comments were published on a Web site (which the school cannot legally regulate) and not directed to a person in a harassing manner nor did they cause any discrimination (unfair treatment) to occur.

Now this case may bring up some thoughts of “No, my rights cannot be infringed upon here.” In response to these naysayers I would like to point out two schools very close to the College who have had some problems protecting their students’ freedoms.

Rutgers University was involved in rather infamous case between the institution and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), which has a chapter at the College. In 2002, Rutgers apparently thought the group’s policy that said leaders must “adhere to biblical standards and belief in all areas of their lives,” (meaning they wanted the leaders of the Christian group to be Christian) was too intolerant and they banned the organization from meeting on campus. Officials from Rutgers stated, in their infinite wisdom, that the policy amounted to discrimination. Luckily, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) came to the rescue.

When it petitioned for a reversal of the decision, the administration of Rutgers refused, and the Alliance Defense Fund then filed a lawsuit against Rutgers on behalf of IVCF, saying the school violated the group’s rights to freedom of expression, religion and association.

After four months of legal haggling, Rutgers administration surrendered and gave up its unconstitutional and prejudicial stance.

Even the institution that the College strives to emulate in every way, Princeton, got into legal trouble for similar reasons early this year. The Princeton Faith and Action, a prospective student group, was denied approval because a certain dean of religious affairs did not want a group associated with the Christian Union, an evangelical church, on Princeton’s campus.

Secular groups did not need to go through the arbitrary recommendation of a dean, and when FIRE pointed out this and many other discrepancies to the Princeton president, the university reversed its decision.

Thankfully, our school does not seem to have any major First Amendment problems and I hope it never will. However, we should all be wary.

Benjamin Franklin said “Eternal vigilance is the prince of liberty” and we as American citizens need to make sure our First Amendment liberties are not taken advantage of by academic administrators’ personal preferences on Facebook or elsewhere.

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