The right to silence satire

Disrupting the performance of a satirical student play was a commendable exercise of free speech rights, say Washington State administrators. The Olympian reports:

Student Chris Lee wrote and staged “Passion of the Musical,” a musical parody of the final days of Jesus Christ, on campus in April.

The play includes racial epithets, ethnic stereotypes and irreverent jokes about religion. Lee likens it to “South Park” or “Chapelle’s Show,” two popular, boundary-pushing television shows.

“My purpose was to create something so offensive it couldn’t be offensive,” Lee said.

The play included a song called “I Will Always Hate Jews,” to the tune of “I Will Always Love You,” as well as a scene with Jesus as a zombie, and one with Lucifer singing “Hell is So Sweet.”

A group of Mormons picketed outside; a second group of black students, with tickets bought for them by the university’s Office of Campus Involvement, attended the final performance.

FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) reports:

During the play, a group of 40 student protestors repeatedly stood up, shouted about being offended, and verbally threatened audience members and the cast.
. . . The disruptions were so severe that at one point, Lee requested that campus security remove the hecklers from the audience. Campus security refused, instead asking Lee (who is African American) to censor part of his production by changing the word “black” to “blank” in the satirical song “I Will Do Anything for God, But I Won’t Act Black” in order “to avoid a possible riot or physical harm.”

. . . Washington State President V. Lane Rawlins was quoted in the campus paper as saying that the protestors “exercised their rights of free speech in a very responsible manner by letting the writer and players know exactly how they felt.”

A May 13 report by the university’s Center for Human Rights offers an Orwellian analysis: Lee is to blame for provoking the audience, in part by the “affront” and “challenge” of incorporating their manifesto into the dialogue between God and Lucifer. He reacted to the protesters, creating “the qualities of a public forum,” so hecklers had a right to stand up and yell during the performance. The fact that black students think Lee is a “traitor” to his race is an “important contextual factor,” though the official concedes Lee feels offended by the notion that others can define how he may behave as a black man. Read the report. (It’s a pdf file I’m afraid.) It’s chilling.

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  1. Who wants to bet the Office of Campus Involvement got the money for the tickets from one of the many “student” fees the university collects? And by the way….what in the world is an Office of Campus Involvement?

  2. AndyJoy says:

    Here’s the handbook description of the department.

  3. bertbrecht says:

    Mr. Lee should be banned from the theatre, his charades are an affront to the Epic Theatre. The Epic theatre does not titilate or provoke children, nor does it orchestrate twenty-first century fascistic fantasies for undergarduates to play act their race/gender resentments while they drink Coca Cola together in the cafeterai together the next morning for breakfast. The Epic Theatre is a hammer and scythe driving nails, threshing the grain; it is the organ of the One, the Legitmate, the Only Workers Party (sans race, sans gender); it is the Artist at work with the Worker against the Capitalist machine. Mr. Lee is an alienator; he knows nothing ofmy work. May he shout fire in crowded American theatres forever! The Alienation Effect is the Epic Theatre!

  4. elfcharm says:

    LOL. I thought, in the opening sentences, that you were being serious, Bert. =)
    Moral Relativity at its best.
    I would normally invoke my favorite saying about this society (“who is John Galt?”)
    but instead, I will just say, where has all the sanity gone?
    and how is this play any worse than the Vagina Monologues?
    oh, wait, it wasn’t done by a feminist, so the play is open to censure.

  5. The mormons protested in a legal and appropriate manner and venue; the students inside (and their university-employed conspiritors) clearly did not. And the actions of campus security in its attempt at censoring the performance (during the performance, at that) were beyond the pale.

    There are many venues that are legally appropriate for venting your opinion (picket lines, letters to the editor, etc.), and there are those that cross over the line. For example, protestors at abortion clinics can have signs and yell slogans from the picket line, but they can’t go into the clinic and disrupt the organization’s operations (no pun intended) using their free speech.

  6. The mind boggles. I honestly don’t know if I’d find it more disturbing that university officials did this because they’re ignorant of basics of the First Amendment, or because they just don’t give a shit. Regardless, someone on the inside needs a long sitdown with the university General Counsel. The taxpayers of the State of Washington deserve better than to have their money spent defending or settling easily preventable lawsuits (and if no one’s sued yet, they will, and should).