Heroes of Free Speech
March 21, 2007
by Samantha Harris
We were genuinely thrilled to announce yesterday
that SFSU finally came to its senses and recognized that it could not lawfully punish the College Republicans for their political protest. We’ve talked a lot on The Torch
already about the public outcry surrounding the case—the letters from FIRE
, the ACLU of Northern California
, and the numerous individuals who took the time to write to SFSU and express their concerns
about the university’s disregard for free speech. Now I’d like to talk a little bit about the courage of the students at the center of this debacle.
FIRE can only do so much if we do not have students who are willing to fight for their fundamental rights. It can be challenging for students to publicly stand up to university administrators, who hold students’ academic—and by extension, professional—futures in their hands. Too often, universities succeed in their shameful attempts to intimidate students into giving up their rights in exchange for the ability to continue their educations in peace. Unfortunately, when students give in to this kind of pressure, it sends a signal to administrators and to the students’ detractors that they are not fully committed to defending their rights, and can be railroaded into making even greater concessions.
Not so at SFSU, where the College Republicans fought heroically for their free speech rights, and found themselves completely vindicated. College Republicans’ President Leigh Wolf passionately and articulately defended his group’s right to political protest on numerous radio and television programs, including FOX News
. He educated himself in the core principles of First Amendment law and used that knowledge to mount a principled defense of his group at their March 9 hearing.
I know that these months have not been easy for the College Republicans. While they have received an outpouring of support from around the country, they have also been the objects of scorn and insult on their campus. Despite these challenges, they refused to concede their fundamental rights, and their efforts have paid off. Let this be a lesson to students around the country that while standing up for your rights can indeed be personally difficult, the alternative is far worse. And congratulations to the SFSU College Republicans, who truly were heroes of free speech throughout their nearly six-month ordeal.