Police at the University of Delaware claimed the word ‘penis’ written on a ‘Free Speech’ wall was not protected free speech.
A campus cop confronted members of Young Americans For Liberty over the scientific term written on their wall they built out of plywood and magic markers to encourage students to engage in free speech.
“There’s some groups on campus where if they see something that they don’t like, they’re going to, you know, be upset and there’s not really going to be a discussion,” the officer said, claiming some of the messages on the wall “potentially violated” the school’s sexual misconduct policy. “It’s just gonna be they’re hurt, they’re offended, and they want something done about it.”
He said that under school policy, the police have to investigate reports of “offensive messages” as “potential hate crimes.”
“I understand where you guys are coming from… but we’ve also got to keep in the back of our mind that everything that people say may be offensive to other people,” the officer told the students. “It stinks being in the middle, so I just try to be a mediator.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) responded to the incident by reminding school authorities of the First Amendment.
“A campus police officer should never ask students to self-censor their constitutionally protected speech,” FIRE’s Senior Program Officer Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon said. “As a public university, UD must abide by the First Amendment, which has very few exceptions – and subjectively offensive words or images are not one of them.”
FIRE also sent a letter to the university president and the school’s chief of police.
“The categories of speech that [the officer] identifies as problematic are so broad that they include any speech that a passing university community member might find subjectively distasteful or upsetting,” the letter stated, adding that “most expression communicated in a manner found disagreeable or offensive by some is fully entitled to protection under the First Amendment.”
FIRE asked the school to “publicly clarify that it will not censor words or ideas simply because someone may find them offensive.”
The YAL chapter also lashed out at the school in response.
“Here we have yet another case of students’ constitutionally guaranteed right to Free Speech being attacked,” said C.J. Sailor, YAL’s Director of Free Speech. “As the recent events at Emory University showed, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding on college campuses, where even the faculty believe in freedom from speech instead of freedom of speech.”