FIRE's Firefly Victory
December 29, 2011
by Jacob Sullum
A new video from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) tells the story of James Miller, the University of Wisconsin at Stout theater professor whoseFirefly poster (right) was removed from his office door by campus police on the grounds that it constituted a threat of violence. Miller protested with a satirical poster warning that "fascism can cause blunt trauma and/or violent death," which was removed under the same pretext. The two incidents, which marked Miller as a threat to campus safety, threatened his career as well as his freedom of speech.
Amazingly, university administrators backed the school's police chief, Lisa A. Walter, even after FIRE intervened on Miller's behalf, pointing out how absurd her reading of First Amendment law was. They did not relent until word of the school's ham-handed censorship triggered a storm of negative publicity, including widely seen tweets by British novelist Neil Gaiman and Firefly stars Nathan Fillion (who was pictured in the poster) and Adam Baldwin. The story provoked a flurry of angry letters from Firefly (and First Amendment) fans.
In the FIRE video, Gaiman identifies several groups of "people you do not want to upset": "The politically disenfranchised, who feel that they have nothing to lose, those who feel the time has come for revolution. Then out on the edges, beyond any of those, are science fiction and fantasy fans whose favorite show has been canceled in an untimely way." No doubt Walter would view that remark as a censorable threat as well.