Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Free Speech at Bucknell


Today, FIRE breaks the story of Bucknell’s censorship of the Bucknell University Conservatives Club. Apparently, the Bucknell administration was not pleased when the group protested Barack Obama’s fiscal policies. My favorite part of FIRE’s release follows:

Bucknell’s recent forays into censorship began on March 17, 2009, when BUCC members stood at Bucknell’s student center and passed out fake dollar bills with President Obama’s face on the front and the sentence “Obama’s stimulus plan makes your money as worthless as monopoly money” on the back. One hour into this symbolic protest, Bucknell administrator Judith L. Mickanis approached the students and told them that they were “busted,” that they were “soliciting” without prior approval, and that their activity was equivalent to handing out Bibles.

Aside from the total absurdity of an administrator calling out “busted,” her comparison of the student protest to — gasp — “handing out Bibles” is rather telling.  

It is remarkably common for university administrators (and virtually any other form of government or private official) to view religious speech as “special” — and not in a good way. Decades of school-prayer litigation and other Establishment Clause cases have led to a mountain of misinformation that can lead even well-meaning individuals to suppress private religious speech in public contexts. In fact, something like this just happened at UCLA, when it finally allowed a student to thank Jesus Christ in a personal graduation statement after initially refusing on “separation of church and state” grounds.  

But ignorance is often supplemented by malice. Long-running cultural battles have led others to believe that religious speech is uniquely offensive (though somehow not secular speech on the same topics).  

While we can’t get inside the Bucknell administrator’s head, it is disturbing that her choice of an analogy for a clearly inappropriate activity was “handing out Bibles.” What was her expectation? That the BUCC would immediately respond, “Oh no! Not Bibles! We’re not like those people.”


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