Students, teachers face free speech limitations after terrorist attacks

Campuses are facing a lesson on free expression in the wakeof the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Students and faculty have chosen free speech, whether visual,verbal or written, to show their patriotism and voice their opinionsabout the recent events and changes throughout the nation.

Angry students staged a sit-in at the University of Californiaat Berkley’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Californian,after the paper published a political cartoon on Sept. 18 depictingtwo Muslim hijackers.

The cartoon shows two bearded men in traditional Muslim dressstanding in a demon’s hand about to be consumed by the fires ofhell. Standing with a flight manual at their feet they are saying,"We made it to Paradise! Now we will meet Allah, and be fedgrapes, and be serviced by 70 virgin women, and"

More than 100 students gathered at the newspaper office hoursafter distribution to protest the cartoon and call for an apology.More than a dozen students remained there into the early morningon Sept. 19. Police issued citations to 18 students for trespassing.

Across the country, Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myerswas dealing with student and faculty rights to express patriotism.

Some librarians made badges with American flags and the words,"Proud to be an American." But library director KathyHoeth told her staff not to wear them because they might offendthe 200 international students at the school.

"My motivation was to provide a library atmosphere oftolerance and respect for the university’s diverse populationthat represents more than 50 international countries," Hoethsaid in a written statement apologizing for her decision. "Itwas a bad decision on my part."

Once the librarians and others realized this edict was possiblyin violation of their First Amendment rights, the university’spresident, William Merwin, stepped in to resolve the situation.According to the Naples Daily News, Merwin said Hoeth mightface disciplinary action.

At Lehigh University in Allentown, Pa., a campus administratorfound himself in a similar position. John Smeaton, vice provostfor student affairs, told a bus driver to remove a flag from hisvehicle because he thought it could make international students"uncomfortable."

Smeaton quickly retracted his decision, allowing bus driversto display American flags if they wanted.

"In a momentary lapse of judgment, which I deeply regret,I suggested the flag be removed from inside the bus," Smeatontold

Colleges are not the only places dealing with free expressionrights. Elementary and middle school teachers have been punishedon two separate occasions related to the terrorist attacks.

Patricia Bowes, an art teacher at Addison Mizner ElementarySchool in Boca Roton, Fla., was suspended after she allowed hersecond-grade class to share their feelings artistically in reactionto the terrorist attacks.

Bowes was placed on indefinite suspension following a parentalcomplaint about sketches of the attacks on New York and Washington.Some images included a brick falling on a child’s head and buildingscrashing down. The sketches were done on Sept. 12, the day afterthe attacks, as part of a project portraying students’ life stories.

"The children were trying to figure it out, trying tomake sense of a horrifying situation," Bowes told the AssociatedPress. "In no way was I intending to go against what theparents or principal administration wanted."

A Pennsylvania teacher has also fallen prey to the heightenedsensitivities of school administrators, at least temporarily costinghim his job.

John Gardner, a substitute teacher at Rooney Middle Schoolin Pittsburgh, was released from his duties after a colleaguesaw he had scribbled the phrase, "Osama bin Laden did usa favor," on a newspaper. Four police officers escorted Gardneroff the premises.

The school board failed to realize, Gardner said, that he tookdown the phrase verbatim from a television newscast for a bookhe is working on about making the best of horrible situations.Gardner will get a chance to tell the school board his side ofthe story today, when he hopes to clear his name.