"By punishing students on the basis of how harshly, violently or unreasonably others might react to their words," the letter argued, "SFSU would create an incentive for those who disagree to react violently, conferring a 'heckler's veto' on speech to the least tolerant members of the community."
The university's response? Spokesperson Ellen Griffin told me, "The university stands behind this process." And: "I don't believe the complaint is about the desecration of the flag. I believe that the complaint is the desecration of Allah."
To which FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley responded, "It really doesn't make any difference whether it's the flag or a religious figure."
If the College Republicans had denigrated Allah, I would defend their right to do so, while noting I have no use for the gratuitous Islam-bashing endemic in certain circles.
But it is not the students' fault that Allah is on the Hamas and Hezbollah flags -- in a language they don't read. Besides, every freshman should know that students have a right to say what they will about any religion, while believers enjoy the right to talk back.
"I'm confident that in the end of the day, the Constitution will vindicate us," SFSU junior Leigh Wolf of the College Republicans told me. Wolf is well aware of the double-standard on campus: Left-leaning students hide behind the First Amendment, while trying to silence any conservative voices that dare to be heard.
Yumi Wilson, who teaches journalism at SFSU and previously worked at The San Francisco Chronicle, told me: "My belief is that people should be able to have the freedom of expression, whether it is popular or not. That's what makes my country different from other countries." After all, she added, "if I don't like them, I can walk away."
As for the students who want to punish the College Repubs, they might want to consider how their actions reflect on SFSU. A university is supposed to be a place of learning and a forum made more vibrant by the free exchange of ideas, but this exercise makes SFSU look like a playground where bullies rule.
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