At NAU, hanging around the student union for no reason requires no permit. Handing out American flags while doing so results in having no less than five different government employees tell you to stop. And while it’s nice that NAU has now dropped its charges against the students, the fact remains that the anniversary of 9/11 has passed, and if NAU’s goal was to stop this commemoration, it certainly succeeded.
It would be nice to rule out political motives on the part of NAU, but it wouldn’t be very reasonable. After September 11, 2001, campuses racked up a terrible record of censorship. At Lehigh University, Central Michigan University and College of the Holy Cross, American flag displays were taken down. Students and faculty members at San Diego State University, Penn State University and Johns Hopkins University were all chastised or punished for strongly denouncing the terrorist attacks or supporting a military response to them.
Either NAU decided it wanted to continue this shameful tradition, or it is so over-regulated and hyper-bureaucratized that it couldn’t see that making “handing out flags without a permit” a campus crime goes against everything a university stands for. Colleges are supposed to be the ultimate “free speech zones” in our free society. It’s sad to see that 10 years after we were attacked at least partly because we are a free society, Northern Arizona University has failed to understand what such a society is all about.
Robert Shibley is the senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).