Student punished for displaying poster

\nCALIFORNIA – The American Civil Liberties Union is suing\nthe University of California at San Diego for punishing a student\nfor displaying a political poster containing a four-letter expletive\nin his dormitory window.

Freshman Ryan Benjamin Shapiro was ordered to perform three\nhours of community service in January after he posted a handmade\nsign that read, “Fuck Netanyahu and Pinochet” in his\nwindow. Shapiro said the message was a reference to articles printed\nin The Times of London, which alleged that former Israeli Prime\nMinister Benjamin Netanyahu supported biological weapons research\nand that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet had engaged\nin human rights abuses.

According to university officials, the sign violated school\npolicies forbidding the display of posters on buildings or in\nstudent windows, as well as a policy prohibiting the use of “fighting\nwords”–words that incite a physical confrontation–in conversation.

According to Shapiro’s attorney, Guylyn Cummins, the university’s\nposting and fighting words policies violate the freedom of speech\nrights of students as provided by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

“The doctrine of ‘fighting words’ has been well defined\nby the U.S. Supreme Court,” Cummins said. “While we\nare not asking that [university officials] get rid of their ‘fighting\nwords’ policy entirely, we are asking that they bring it into\nline with the Supreme Court’s definition.”

Nicholas Aguilar, director of student policies at the university,\nsaid that while the school’s policy was intended to follow the\nSupreme Court’s definition of “fighting words,” the\npolicy was, he admitted, incorrectly enforced in Shapiro’s case.

“In this situation, the policy was misapplied,” Aguilar\nsaid. “We have corrected that to make sure the student is\nnot facing any punishment for violating that particular policy.”

The university’s residential life posting policy instructs\nstudents that “the content of your posting may not be offensive\nor discriminatory to any individual or group within the University\ncommunity.” Cummins said, however, that this policy is overly\nvague and as such, violates a student’s right to due process.

Also under debate is whether or not the policy was regularly\nenforced at the university. According to the complaint Shapiro\nfiled in the case, other dormitory residents regularly posted\na variety of political signs, seasonal decorations, movie posters,\nbumper stickers and decals in their dorm windows, without any\nprior approval from the university.

“My feeling is that the policy was discriminatorily enforced,\nbased on whether or not [university officials] liked the content\nor not,” Cummins said. “This is clearly a violation\nof equal protection.”

Aguilar said reports of posting policy violations at the university\nare sporadic at best. He said a lack of enforcement is not the\nissue, but simply the fact that legitimate violations are indeed\ninfrequent.

“It is definitely one of the less prevalent violations,\nespecially compared to things like alcohol violations and disturbing\nthe peace,” Aguilar said. “If we have more than two\nor three [posting violations] a year, I’d be surprised.”

Aguilar said the typical posting violations involve a complaint\nfrom someone who feels “emotionally damaged” by the\ncontent of a particular poster or sign. In this case, someone\ndid complain to the administration about the use of the word “fuck”\nin Shapiro’s poster.

As of July, Shapiro’s case was on hold while the university\nwas rewriting its posting policies. The revised posting policies\nshould be completed before the start of the fall semester, Aguilar\nsaid.

“The use of the f-word was, frankly, in bad taste,”\nAguilar said. “But obviously it was protected speech, and\nwe’ve recognized that.”\n