Let’s imagine a left-wing student group stages a rally that includes stepping on an American flag and an Israeli flag. Offended students complain that disrespect to the flags is uncivil, creates a hostile environment and incites violence. Now imagine university officials taking the complaint seriously for half a second. They would cite free speech rights, and that would be the end of it.
At San Francisco State, College Republicans who staged an anti-terrorism rally face charges of incivility, creating a hostile environment and incitement to violence because they stepped on hand-drawn replicas of the Hamas and Hezbollah flags, both of which contain Arabic script naming Allah.
FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) is representing the rally organizers, who’ve been told the case against them will be heard by a panel representing “key constitutencies” in the university community.
â€œAt a public university, stepping on a flag â€” even burning an American flag â€” is without question a constitutionally protected act of political protest,â€ FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley said. â€œThe right to protest is at the very heart of the First Amendment, and means nothing if only inoffensive expression is permitted.â€
The Office of Student Programs and Leadership Development investigated the offended student’s complaint. Instead of dismissing it as a free-speech issue, the office referred the case to the Student Organization Hearing Panel, which will rule on the charges. The panel has the power to revoke College Republicans status as a recognized student group.