10.01.2008 0

Mr. Jefferson Would Be Quite Shocked

  • On: 10/22/2008 11:41:09
  • In: School Choice

    ALG Editor’s Note: As the following featured editorial notes, Thomas Jefferson would be rolling over in his grave if he knew about the anti-speech policies taking place at the university he founded:

    Mr. Jefferson Would Be Quite Shocked

    Published: September 1, 2008

    If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, he would probably be hiding his face in shame at the recent behavior of officials at the University of Virginia, the school he founded in Charlottesville and based on Enlightment principles.

    About a year ago, during a football game between Duke University and UVa, student David Becker, sitting on the front row of the stadium, held up a homemade sign reading “Fire Groh.” Head coach Al Groh was not having the best of starts to the season and was continuing the down trend from the previous season. Discontent among the Wahoo faithful was palpable.

    Becker immediately drew the attention of Scott Stadium officials who threatened him with ejection from the game for violating the athletic department’s policy against signs, banners or flags that contain “derogatory comments, profanity, impede another guest’s view of the field or cover any stadium signage.”

    This year, the geniuses in charge of athletics at UVa decided to fire a preemptive shot across the bow of anyone thinking of pulling a similar stunt, should the season quickly head south. Last week, according to Media General News Service, the university sent a mass e-mail to all students informing them that signs of any type will not be permitted inside athletic facilities.

    Rather appropriately and somewhat ironically, the university’s anti-free speech move came just as the Beijing Olympics were winding down.

    China’s communist leaders had assured the International Olympics Committee over the years that free speech and the right of people to assembly and protest would be honored. There were even three “official” protest areas set up in Beijing during the Games.
    In typical communist fashion, anyone who wanted to protest in the “official” spots had to apply to the government for a protest permit. In even more typical communist fashion, each and every applicant was promptly arrested and jailed.

    You could almost get away with thinking that some university officials had taken their cues directly from Beijing. Just listen to Rich Murray, a public relations flak for the athletics department, explain the rationale behind the policy: “The policy change is intended to support and promote sportsmanship in a positive game-day environment for all fans in attendance.”

    What a load of you-know-what.

    The change in policy, from a ban against derogatory comments, profanity and such to a blanket ban on all expression, has the distinct odor of “lawyer” all over it.

    According to Josh Wheeler, the associate director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression (ironically, based at UVa and headed by a former president of the university), the blanket ban on any and all expression actually raises fewer constitutional concerns than the original policy. You see, the university isn’t making a judgment about the content of a sign or banner … everything is banned.

    “The key factor in determining the constitutionality of a restriction on speech in a public place is whether it is directed at what is being said,” Wheeler told Media General. “In other words does the restriction apply to all speech, and not just speech you don’t like.”

    Sadly, based on that narrow legal interpretation, UVa’s athletic department seems to be in the clear.

    The idea, though, of a university, much less the school founded by the author of the Declaration of Independence, banning any and all speech anywhere on its property is abhorrent.

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