College to student group: No selling Christmas trees, only ‘holiday’ trees

Why did this happen? Is WPCC hostile to Christmas? Perhaps; we’re unlikely to know for sure. What’s more likely, though, is that WPCC has imbibed the idea, so popular on campuses these days, that avoiding offense is not just a good thing to do, but actually some sort of legal requirement. We see it at places like Syracuse, where the police infamously threatened to censor “offensive” Halloween costumes. At places like Auburn, where administrators ordered a Ron Paul poster taken down from a students’ window while others remained hanging. And at places like San Francisco State University, where students were investigated for months for holding an anti-terrorism protest where they stepped on Hamas and Hezbollah flags.

But American courts stubbornly continue to insist that offending someone is not a crime — and thank goodness for it.

In a nation of 300 million, there are undoubtedly some people who would be offended by seeing a student group’s Christmas tree sale advertised on a public college campus. There are others who would see it as an entanglement of church and state. But the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence has made clear that the former is no reason to censor student expression, and the latter is simply not true. If this incident teaches other colleges not to make the same mistake as WPCC, I’d consider that a great holiday present to our nation.

Robert Shibley is the senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).