In Defense of Offensive Speech

by Jennifer Kabbany
Off-Campus Tomfoolery Should Not Be Regulated By Overzealous Administrators

Were signs hung at an Old Dominion University off-campus frat house over the weekend saying “Rowdy and fun hope your baby girl is ready for a good time,” “Freshman daughter drop off” and “Go ahead and drop off mom too” a good idea or in good taste? Not even close.

Outrage has since prompted the frat’s suspension and an investigation by the frat’s national office – well within the private organization’s rights.

But the controversy has also raised important First Amendment questions, as the president of the public university has stated in response that “there is zero tolerance on this campus for sexual assault and sexual harassment. This incident will be reviewed immediately by those on campus empowered to do so. Any student found to have violated the code of conduct will be subject to disciplinary action.”

That’s “completely illegal, and immensely disappointing for an institution of higher learning,” argues College Fix editor Greg Piper. “President John Broderick seems to think that this peaceful, off-campus expression directed to ‘baby girls’ and ‘moms’ violates school policy.” Instead, their signs are protected free speech.

Instapundit’s Professor Glenn Reynolds is all over this.

“My advice to these fraternity guys: (1) Immediately complain to the Department of Education and the Department of Justice that you’re being targeted because of your race and sex, and denied your First Amendment rights. No, nothing will come of this, but that’s not the point. The process is the punishment,” Reynolds writes. “(2) Sue on the same grounds. (3) The real killer: Go to the Virginia Legislature and tell them they should cut Old Dominion’s budget. Come prepared with figures on the number of administrators on campus now, versus 10 and 20 years ago. File freedom of information requests and get the travel expense figures for the folks in the administration. Look over them for suspicious and large expenditures. (You’ll find them!) Make a big stink about those.”

And on Reason, staff editor Robby Soave points out that Sigma Nu’s banners were “not very offensive.”

“In this case, I struggle to grasp what was even so monstrous about the banners,” Soave writes. “Hope your baby is ready for a good time, oh, mom too! is certainly crude and in bad taste. But no specific person is being maligned, threatened, or disparaged. Some frat brothers are eager to have sex with girls—is this surprising? .. Associating the banners with sexual assault, as Broderick did in his statement, is a considerable exaggeration.”

Campus administrators should not let outrage or bad press trump students’ constitutional rights. Or they may continue to lose costly lawsuits and learn lessons the hard way.

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