Angry administrators at Arizona State University are pursuing punitive measures against a fraternity that held a mocking Martin Luther King Jr. Day theme party–but a free speech group says students have a First Amendment right to host events that cause offense.
The fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon held the event–an MLK Day ‘Black Party’–on Monday. Participants dressed up in stereotypical black clothing–mostly basketball jerseys, according to images–and even drank out of watermelon cups.
The party prompted universal criticism from other students and faculty, who found the event to be in an extremely bad taste.
“I think this represents the ignorance that still exists today,” said one student, senior Frank Hogan, in a statement. Hogan noted that the event was especially offensive, given that it was day of celebration for minorities and equal rights enthusiasts. (RELATED: Dartmouth professor: MLK Day is a far-right imperialist holiday)
Administrators, however, are going several steps further. They immediately suspended the fraternity, are investigating the party and may discipline individual students, according to local news reports.
“The university will not tolerate this kind of behavior,” said ASU in a press release.
The press release also made clear that the university would take action against everyone involved in planning the party.
That would put ASU in violation of the First Amendment, however.
ASU should keep in mind that students have a Constitutional right to host such events, however distasteful they may be, said Robert Shibley, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
“At public colleges, the First Amendment prohibits punishments based solely on the subjective offensiveness of student expression,” Shibley told The Daily Caller.
Shibley said that those who took offense at the party should voice their concerns, rather than censor the offenders.
“Parties with controversial themes pop up on campuses every year,” said Shibley. “The right response to speech we don’t like is more speech, not censorship or punishment.”
FIRE keeps track of American universities’ respect for free speech principles. Most campuses violate the Constitution by enforcing illegal speech codes that prohibit free expression, according to a recent FIRE report. (RELATED: Annual report shows most colleges remain anti-free speech hellholes)