The ‘Jesus’ stomp

Telling Intercultural Communications students to stomp on a piece of paper with “Jesus” written on it was supposed to illustrate the power of symbols. (Why not an “Allah” stomp? That’s a really powerful symbol!)  Now Florida Atlantic University has apologized for the “Jesus” stomp exercise, but denied suspending the student who complained about it.

“This exercise will not be used again,” FAU officials said in a statement. “We sincerely apologize for any offense this caused. Florida Atlantic University respects all religions and welcomes people of all faiths, backgrounds and beliefs.”

The exercise came from a book by a St. Norbert College communications professor, Jim Neuliep.

“This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings,” the exercise states. “Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”

“We can confirm that no student has been expelled, suspended or disciplined by the university as a result of any activity that took place during this class,” the university statement claimed, adding that students weren’t required to step on the paper.

Ryan Rotela, a devout Mormon, was charged with violating the student code of conduct and ordered not to attend class, according to Fox News. He’d told instructor Deandre Poole that he objected to the exercise, saying “don’t do that again” and “you’ll be hearing from me.”

. . . according to a letter written by Associate Dean Rozalia Williams, Rotela is facing a litany of charges – including an alleged violation of the student code of conduct, acts of verbal, written or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion or other conduct which threaten the health, safety or welfare of any person.”

“In the interim, you may not attend class or contact any of the students involved in this matter – verbally or electronically – or by any other means,” Williams wrote to Rotela. “Please be advised that a Student Affairs hold may be placed on your records until final disposition of the complaint.”

Presumably, the charges have been dropped, but FAU, a state university, didn’t admit Rotela had been threatened and didn’t apologize to him.

The professor had a right to ask students to stomp on “Jesus,” but can’t require them to violate their religious beliefs, argues FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff, citing a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court case. Protesting the exercise was a classic exercise of free speech rights.

Another FAU communications professor, James Tracy, has questioned “whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place —at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation’s news media have described.”

College: Where free speech goes to die


Greg Lukianoff talks with Nick Gillespie on Reason TV.

Universities no longer encourage students to debate, disagree and dissent, writes Greg Lukianoff in Unlearning Liberty. Someone might feel uncomfortable.

As president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Lukianoff has spent more than a decade fighting against censorship, speech codes, sex codes, intrusive “orientations,” mandatory “dispositions” and other checks on free expression. FIRE has defended students, professors and staffers who’ve fallen afoul of campus groupthink. One student was suspended for a cartoon protesting the decision to build an expensive new parking garage.

Just recently, DePaul put a student on probation for publicizing the names of students who admitted to vandalizing  a pro-life display. Kristopher Del Campo was found responsible for “disorderly, violent, intimidating or dangerous” behavior, which includes ”creat[ing] a substantial risk of physical harm,” “causing significant emotional harm,” and “bullying,” because he named 13 admitted vandals on his group’s web site.

Unlearning Liberty explains that “free speech is important because debate is important” and debate is “the key tool of deliberative democracies,” writes Harry Lewis, dean of Harvard College

If we don’t train our students to argue with each other, without crying foul every time one side hurts the other’s feelings, we will wind up with … a dysfunctional Congress, maybe?

College graduates “will carry their conformist attitudes and unexamined political beliefs with them into their professions,” writes Bruce Thornton in College: Where Free Speech Goes to Die.

College students never have to leave the “echo chambers” of their own minds, writes Lukianoff.

 Instead, they have been subjected to a curriculum and campus life focused on “rewarding groupthink, punishing devil’s advocates, and shutting down discussions on some of the hottest and most important topics of the day.”

A “lifelong Democrat,” Lukianoff has worked for the ACLU and an environmental justice group. He backs gay marriage, abortion rights, legalizing marijuana, universal health care, etc. He belongs to a Brooklyn food co-op. Yet administrators and students assume that a defender of free speech must be a conservative — and a “fringe” conservative at that, he writes. It’s another way of shutting down debate.

Stopping cyberbullies

Predatory adults are rare on social media, compared to mean girls and crude boys, writes Emily Bazelon in How to Stop the Bullies in The Atlantic.

Facebook gets millions of complaints a week about cyberbullying, she finds. Employees are expected to decide in a few seconds which have merit.

Henry Lieberman, an MIT computer scientist, is working on a program to spot nasty posts immediately. In middle school, he  was a “fat kid with the nickname Hank the Tank,” he tells Bazelon.

. . . he and his graduate students built a “commonsense knowledge base” called BullySpace—essentially a repository of words and phrases that could be paired with an algorithm to comb through text and spot bullying situations. Yes, BullySpace can be used to recognize words like fat and slut (and all their text-speak misspellings), but also to determine when the use of common words varies from the norm in a way that suggests they’re meant to wound.

In tests, BullySpace caught 80 percent of the insults flagged by human testers.

Lieberman also hopes to use “ladders of reflection” to persuade kids not to harass others.

Think about the kid who posted “Because he’s a fag! ROTFL [rolling on the floor laughing]!!!” What if, when he pushed the button to submit, a box popped up saying “Waiting 60 seconds to post,” next to another box that read “I don’t want to post” and offered a big X to click on? Or what if the message read “That sounds harsh! Are you sure you want to send that?” Or what if it simply reminded the poster that his comment was about to go to thousands of people?

“Ash” and “Katherine,” members of the hacker group, Anonymous, publicized the identities and vicious tweets of four high school boys who were harassing a 12-year-old girl with rape threats and suggestions she commit suicide. She’d followed one of the boys on Twitter, then angered him by un-following him.

At first the boys railed against Ash on Twitter, and one played down his involvement, denying that he had ever threatened to rape the girl. But after a while, two of the boys began sending remorseful messages. “For two solid days, every time we logged on, we had another apology from them,” Ash said. . . . Katherine thought the boys hadn’t understood what impact their tweets would have on the girl receiving them—they hadn’t thought of her as a real person. “They were actually shocked,” she said. . . . we started talking to them about anti-bullying initiatives they could bring to their schools.”

“When i found out she was hurt by it i had felt horrible,” one of the boys e-mailed Bazelon. Perhaps a few seconds of reflection would have helped.

Anti-bullying laws can conflict with free-speech rights, argues Eugene Volokh, a law professor. A proposed Minnesota law bans “interfering” with an individual’s ability “to participate in a safe and supportive learning environment.”

Say that students are talking over lunch about how a classmate committed a crime, cheated, said racist things, treated his girlfriend cruelly, or whatever else, which causes people to feel hostile towards the classmate. That interferes with his ability “to participate in a … supportive learning environment.”

Bullying may include speech or conduct that “relates to the actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, age, marital status, familial status, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, academic status, disability, or status with regard to public assistance, age” of the individual or his/her associates.

Can school ban ‘boobies’ wristband?

“A full federal appeals court on Wednesday heard arguments about whether school districts may bar students from wearing the popular “I (heart) Boobies” wristbands promoting cancer awareness,” reports Ed Week.

“Boobies” is vulgar and potentially disruptive, argued administrators at Easton Area Middle School in Pennsylvania. Two students suspended for defying the ban said they had a free-speech right to wear the wristbands.

“The case prompted a provocative hour-long argument” on “boobies,” reports Ed Week. 

Teacher suspended for stomping on flag

A high school teacher in South Carolina  has been placed on long-term administrative leave on charges he threw a U.S. flag on the floor and stepped on it in a lesson on symbols, reports The Daily Caller.

Scott Compton, an English teacher at Chapin High School in Chapin, S.C., repeated the act in three classes, reports WIS-TV.

“He drew a couple of symbols, like one of them was a cross, and he said, ‘What does this represent,’ and everybody said, ‘Christianity,’” (parent Michael) Copeland explained to WIS.

“Then he proceeds to take down the American flag, and said, ‘This is a symbol, but it’s only a piece of cloth. It doesn’t mean anything,’ and then he throws it down on the floor and then stomps on it, repeatedly,” Copeland continued.

According to Copeland’s daughter, the teacher told students there would be no consequences, because “it’s just a piece of cloth that doesn’t mean anything.”

Perhaps the teacher meant to say that he couldn’t be arrested for stepping on the flag — or the cross. But there are consequences for angering people by disrespecting symbols they honor.

Ontario: Anti-abortion speech is ‘bullying’

Politicians are trying to suppress political speech by calling it “bullying,” charges Hans Bader. He’s got a doozy of an example from Canada: Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten says Catholic schools can’t tell students abortion is wrong because anti-abortion speech is “misogyny,” which is banned by Bill 13, the anti-bullying law.

Religious schools are subject to censorship, Broten said.

“We do not allow and we’re very clear with the passage of Bill 13 that Catholic teachings cannot be taught in our schools that violates human rights and which brings a lack of acceptance to participation in schools,” she said. …

. . . “Bill 13 is about tackling misogyny, taking away a woman’s right to choose could arguably be one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take.”

U.S. protections for free speech are much stronger than in Canada, but some school administrators have tried to bully students who disapprove of homosexuality, Bader writes.

When a Wisconsin high school newspaper ran dueling student opinion pieces on whether same-sex couples should be able to adopt children, the student who took the “no” side was accused of bullying – which can lead to expulsion – by the superintendent.

However, a conservative Christian student successfully challenged a school “harassment” code that punished students who oppose homosexuality, Bader writes. In Saxe v. State College Area School District (2001), a federal appeals court ruled there is no “harassment” exception to the First Amendment for speech which offends members of minority groups.

High school coach in trouble for sex book

self-published book of sex advice and opinions has meant trouble for a high school girls basketball coach in suburban Chicago.  Bryan Craig,  also a counselor at Rich Central High School, resigned as the varsity coach and is on administrative leave while the district reviews the issue.

In the forward to the book, titled “It’s Her Fault,” Craig says his intention is to give women a guide to gaining the “upper hand in a relationship” because he is tired of hearing them complain. The book contains graphic details on his observations of the female anatomy, including what he describes as physical differences between ethnicities that lead him to conclude that “Latin women have more children.”

Among the assertions in the book is that all men and women should be promiscuous before getting married.

He also writes, “The easiest kill for a man is through the young lady with low self-esteem. Of course some will feel this is taking advantage, and yes it is.

Can he be fired for expressing his opinions? Should he be?

No, writes Darre.  Firing a teacher for something like this is a “heckler’s veto” on employment. 

When the teacher is wrong — and a bully

It’s illegal to disrespect the president, a North Carolina high school teacher told a student in an audiotape that turned up on YouTube. The social studies teacher raised the Washington Post story charging Romney bullied a high school classmate with long hair, reports the Salisbury Post.  A student responded that Obama has admitted bullying a girl in school.  (In Dreams From My Father, Obama writes that he pushed down an unpopular black girl in — I think it was sixth grade — after he was teased about her being his “girlfriend.”)

“Stop, no, because there is no comparison,” (the teacher) says. Romney, she says, is “running for president. Obama is the president.”

When the student says they’re both “just men,” the teacher continues to argue that Romney, as a candidate for president, is not to be afforded the same respect as the president.

The teacher tells the class Obama is “due the respect that every other president is due.”

“Listen, let me tell you something, you will not disrespect the president of the United States in this classroom,” she says.

. . . Later in the conversation, the teacher tells the class it’s criminal to slander a president.

“Do you realize that people were arrested for saying things bad about Bush?” she says of former President Bush. “Do you realize you are not supposed to slander the president?”

The student responds by saying being arrested for talking badly about the president would violate the right to free speech.

“You would have to say some pretty f’d up crap about him to be arrested,” he says. “They cannot take away your right to have your opinion. … They can’t take that away unless you threaten the president.”

The student is correct, of course. The teacher is . . . Sadly misinformed and a bit of a bully.

Schools vs. free (rude) speech

What Right Do Schools Have to Discipline Students for What They Say Off Campus? No right at all, argues civil libertarian Wendy Kaminer  in The Atlantic.

Griffith Middle School in Indiana aims to transform “learners today” into “leaders tomorrow.” Leaders of which country, I wonder, after reading the Griffith Middle School Handbook. North Korea? The U.S. Constitution appears to have no standing in Griffith.

Students can be suspended or expelled for “innuendos.”  The ban on profanity, pornography or obscenity includes  ”other inappropriate materials” and “using or writing derogatory written materials.”  This is “breathtakingly vague,” Kaminer writes. Griffith students may be expelled for “disrespect” toward staff or other students or for “disruptive behavior,” including “arguing.”

Idiotic rules like this are bound to be enforced idiotically, but the consequences for students are not amusing. Griffith Middle School is now being sued in federal court for expelling three 8th grade girls for engaging in a girlish exchange on Facebook that included jokes about classmates they’d like to kill. Their conversation, which lasted less than two hours, was conducted after school, on their own time and on their own computers.

The girls used “LOL” (laugh out loud), smiley faces and all caps to indicate sarcasm, writes Kaminer. They were joking. One of the allegedly threatened students said he didn’t feel threatened and knew the girls were joking. But someone’s mother complained. The girls were expelled for the rest of the school year for bullying, intimidation and harassment.

The students have a very strong First Amendment case — if the First Amendment retains any relevance in public schools. There’s no question that those of us not in actual or virtual custody of school authorities have the right to make jokes about killing each other. Student rights, however, are increasingly limited; anxiety about social media and hysteria about bullying or drug use have only been exacerbated by the post 9/11 authoritarianism that permeates our culture and our courts.

Has the campaign to end bullying — and the fear of school violence — gone too far?

A six-year-old boy in Colorado was suspended for sexual harassment for saying, “I’m sexy and I know it” to a girl standing next to him in the lunch line. The song is featured in a commercial for M&Ms.

School bans atheist’s editorial on religion

Administrators, teachers and coaches promote “pro-Christian” beliefs at school events, wrote Krystal Myers, an atheist, in the Lenoir City High School (Tennessee) school newspaper. But school officials pulled the honor student’s editorial, claiming it would be “disruptive,” reports the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Schools Director Wayne Miller said the school district is not violating the law.

Prayers at athletic events are student-led. School board meetings do begin with a prayer, but there are usually no students present, he said.

One teacher wears T-shirts that depict the crucifix, Myers wrote. Other teachers often use Bible verses for the “Quote of the day” written on classroom boards.  Coaches encourage team prayer before competitions. “As the captain of the swim team, I feel I have to be a part of it.”

Myers also cited Lee vs. Wiseman, a U.S. Supreme Court decision based on a case where a parent tried to stop a rabbi from speaking at a middle school graduation. The court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the inclusion of clergy who offer prayers at official public school ceremonies violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

“The school’s rule creates subtle and indirect coercion (students must stand respectfully and silently), forcing students to act in ways which establish a state religion,” the ruling said.

 If Myers editorial had run in the school newspaper — she’s the editor — would the Christians have rioted? I doubt it.