Officials at George Washington University are contemplating a ban on a sacred Hindu symbol because it resembles something else that could possibly offend some students.
The administration at the fancypants $62,485-per-year school in Washington, D.C. may also expel a student who brought the symbol, a Sanskrit svastika [with a ‘v’], to campus.
Obviously, svastikas out of India look sort of, kind of like the Western world’s most readily identifiable representation of Nazi Germany and anti-Semitism.
The unidentified student, who is Jewish, returned last month from a trip to India with a svastika image. He placed it briefly on the bulletin board at his predominantly Jewish fraternity’s residence hall.
The Sanskrit svastika signifies good fortune among adherents of Hinduism and Buddhism (and Jainism).
One fraternity member who saw the swastika on the bulletin board thought it was some kind of threat and informed police. (RELATED: Swastika Kerfuffle In Jewish Frat Dorm At George Washington U.)
Everything was sorted out in a few hours. The complaining student realized there was no threat. Police quickly closed their investigation.
However, the student who placed the symbol on the bulletin board now faces permanent expulsion.
Steven Knapp, president of George Washington U., said in a statement that the intentions behind the on-campus Nazi motif will not affect his determination to call it a hate crime.
“While the student claims his act was not an expression of hatred, the university is referring the matter … for review by its Hate Crimes Unit,” Knapp declared.
John Banzhaf, a famed public interest law professor at the George Washington University Law School, has taken up the cause of the embattled Jewish student.
If the student suffers expulsion or any kind of discipline, the effect will be to ban a sacred religious symbol from the George Washington campus, Banzhaf told The Daily Caller.
University officials have “seemingly taken the position that posting anything which could be mistaken for a Nazi swastika” is prohibited, he argued — “even by students who are Hindus or Buddhists.”
“It’s like banning the 6-pointed Jewish Star of David because some people might mistake it for the pentagram symbol and human sacrifice, or expelling a student for using the word ‘niggardly’ because other students may mistake it for a racist word and get upset,” Banzhaf analogized.
Banzhaf noted that George Washington officials would likely be unable to take refuge in their school’s private status. “GWU says that it ‘is committed to the protection of free speech,’ and guarantees students the right to ‘express opinions publicly and privately,'” he explained. Such language is, in essence, contractual and cannot be eliminated in an ex post facto fashion.
“Any attempt to punish free speech which is now permitted can create legal liability,” the law professor said.
“Even if the student had posted an actual Nazi swastika instead of an Indian religious symbol, he would still be protected by free speech and academic freedom, unless it posed a clear and present danger.”
Banzhaf said he has told school officials that “a school attempting to ban a religious symbol” is “not only irrational and illegal but also unprecedented.”
Earlier this week, however, he told TheDC he has discovered that he was wrong about the lack of precedent.
In fact, circa 1990, the school board in Lubbock, Texas did essentially the same thing George Washington U. officials are now doing when it attempted to ban certain nefarious religious imagery in an ill-fated dress code.
Officials in Lubbock were distressed 25 years ago about symbols of Satanism: pentagrams, upside-down crosses — that kind of thing.
“The frequency in sightings of such symbols is a strong indication of the influence the occult is having in our society,” the Lubbock school board proclaimed, according to a Sept. 12, 1990 story in The Harvard Crimson, which painfully poked fun at the deeply conservative West Texas yokels.
The Lubbock ban included the peace symbol (a symbol “among the Heavy Metal and Occult groups” of “the ‘Cross of Neri'”), any upside down cross, any pentagram, the anarchy symbol and, of course, the yin/yang symbol.
As Banzhaf notes, Lubbock’s effort to stamp out the evils of satanic symbolism appear to have been greeted with national derision and scorn.
The possible expulsion of the Jewish student at George Washington U. is not Banzhaf’s first free speech rodeo. He has participated in many and won quite a few.
In a memo to school officials, the law professor warned that GW president Steven Knapp and other administration leaders could ultimately be held personally liable to the student for torts including defamation as well as violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act.
The threat to sue individuals for damages and attorneys’ fee frequently gets results, Banzhaf said, because those individuals can see a lower credit rating and an inability to obtain credit throughout the (often very long) duration of any civil lawsuit.
Knapp is paid $1,288,034 each year. At least two other administrators at George Washington also receive plush salaries exceeding $1 million annually.