A student at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan is involved in a pitched battled over freedom of speech with school administrators.
But so far a third contestant — irony — is winning, and it’s not even close.
The student, Daniel Chapman, petitioned in August to put up a poster saying “Fuck Censorship” on SVSU’s university-owned bulletin boards because he wanted to protest the school’s policy of approving materials before students can post them on campus.
The recently modified policy prohibits postings on the public school’s bulletin boards that contain profanity, nudity or sexually suggestive material. Posted materials must also be in good taste — a quality that’s in the eye of the beholder.
University officials rejected the “Fuck Censorship” poster, according to the Saginaw News.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has taken up Chapman’s cause, alleging that the school’s policy is unconstitutional.
“SVSU is using its unlawful censorship policy to censor student criticism of its unlawful censorship policy,” said FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley in a statement.
“While their apparent dislike for expletives may be sincere, President Gilbertson and his administration must know that their actions violate the First Amendment,” added Samantha Harris, FIRE’s director of speech Code Research.
SVSU officials insisted that they can control the content of school-owned bulletin boards.
“University-owned bulletin boards were never intended to be a free speech forum,” SVSU officials said, according to the Saginaw News. “There are all kinds of other free speech forums on campus, and students and others regularly take advantage of these ample opportunities to express themselves. We believe our actions are constitutional and sensible.”
When he sought approval to put up his brazen posters, Chapman cited the seminal 1971 Supreme Court case, Cohen v. California, in which a 5-4 majority ruled that wearing a jacket bearing the phrase “Fuck the Draft” is constitutionally protected speech.
According to FIRE, Chapman deliberately chose the slogan “Fuck Censorship” to parallel “Fuck the Draft.”
Chapman also submitted other posters — ironically censoring the poster’s lone four-letter word — that SVSU ultimately approved. They said “F*ck Censorship,” “F!_!ck Censorship” and “Stand Up for Free Speech.”
FIRE says Saginaw State’s policy has opened the state of Michigan to legal liability. Its next step, the group says, is to write to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Governor Rick Snyder.