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"Creat[ing] an Atmosphere Where Students Do Not Feel Represented":

The Boise State Arbiter reports:

Senate Bill number 10, titled "Amendment to Article X ASBSU [Associated Students of Boise State University = the BSU Student Government] Senate Rules of Procedures," was sent to the Internal Committee of Ways and Means. Sen. Cyndi Blue, Sen. Kayla Davis, Sen. Mark Getecha and Sen. Amy Ortmann sponsor it.

Sen. Blue said the bill is a response to how ASBSU is perceived on campus. She said the issue of a conflict of interest has come up continually.

The purpose of Bill Number 10 is to "significantly reduce the confusion caused by having Senators work, intern or be actively involved in organizations or student newspapers." The amendment to Article 10 of the ASBSU constitution is purposed to add another section.

It states that "a senator of ASBSU may not work, intern, or be actively involved in organizations or student newspapers that create an atmosphere where students do not feel represented."

For more context, see this Boise Weekly article. According to it, the bill's advocates seem to be particularly irate about student senator Jonathon Sawmiller, who heads the campus College Republicans chapter and writes for the Arbiter. He "first made waves in April, when he wrote an editorial ... [condemning the Latino group MECha by citing its] origins as a militant separatist group in the 1960s, calling the group 'racist Neo-Nazis,' and criticiz[ing] the university for 'funding organizations that call for the overthrow of America.'" He then wrote an Arbiter op-ed called "Protect Marriage From Violence--Vote Yes on HJR2," supporting the proposed anti-same-sex-union state constitutional amendment, "and cit[ing] statistics claiming that partners in same-sex relationships are more prone to domestic abuse, mental illness and suicide."

Then the College Republicans put up a poster, "which wasn't approved by ASBSU, as is required for student organizations," "to support 'Freedom Week,' a commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall sponsored by a national conservative student organization."

The poster included drawings of Che Guevara and Ronald Reagan under the title, "Who is the real revolutionary?" It labeled Guevara a "murderer," saying "his ideology murdered 100,000,000 people." Reagan, on the other hand, is identified as a "liberator," with the caption, "His ideology freed 425,574,817 people."

In response, students from BGLAD, the Boise State Cultural Center and other organizations again packed an ASBSU meeting, hoping to combat what was again being called "hate" from the conservative student. Later in the same week, a new unauthorized poster--this time, from an anonymous source--was posted around campus. On this poster, under the title "Abuse of Power," were two pictures. One showed Adolf Hitler, with the quotes "dirty Jews" and "His ideology cost 6 million lives." The other showed Sawmiller in his military fatigues, with the quotes, "Dirty illegal alien," and, "What will his ideology cost our students at Boise State?"

(Sawmiller had been quoted as using the term "dirty illegal aliens" in his April Arbiter editorial, although the opinion editor admitted in a correction that a staff member had added the term "dirty" independent of the author.) ...

ASBSU president Wyatt Parke decided to use his veto power to cancel Freedom Week, telling The Arbiter he "didn't feel like I could endorse a week that had gone so awry." ...

[Sawmiller's] opponents remain steadfast in their belief that his written opinions stretch the boundary between protected free speech and inflammatory hate speech. Several of Sawmiller's fellow senators recently put this sentiment into print: They drafted a bill that, if passed, would dictate that "a senator of ASBSU may not work, intern, or be actively involved in organizations or student newspapers that create an atmosphere where students do not feel represented."

Thanks to Clayton Cramer for the pointer.

UPDATE: Commenter Jonathan Sawmiller reports that "the ASBSU Ways and Means Committee indefinitely tabled the proposed Senate Bill #10, so those words shouldn't be appearing in ASBSU code anytime soon."

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. "Where's the ACLU?"
  2. "Creat[ing] an Atmosphere Where Students Do Not Feel Represented":
62 Comments
"Where's the ACLU?"

A commenter on the "Creat[ing] an Atmosphere Where Students Do Not Feel Represented" thread asks, "Where's the ACLU? Right, nowhere." He then goes on to say, "Where's the ACLU? Where are the liberals? They are the ones ATTACKING this man."

Well, let's keep this in perspective. First, the ACLU's litigation arm can't do anything about this — we're talking here about a proposal to enact a student government rule. Once it's enacted, it might be challengeable, though perhaps even then the challenge would have to wait until the rule is enforced. But when it's just being talked about, neither the ACLU nor anyone else can sue.

Second, recall that I only got wind of this controversy at Boise State because Clayton Cramer e-mailed me about it. It's at least within the realm of possibility, it seems to me, that Cramer didn't e-mail the ACLU, that the ACLU's staff doesn't read Cramer's blog, and that the ACLU hadn't heard of this through other sources. (My NEXIS search for (sawmiller or "feel represented") and (bsu or boise state) revealed no newspaper references.) Even if the ACLU had heard about this, it might have legitimately concluded that it has other more pressing matters on its plate — but for now, we don't even know that the ACLU people had even heard of this matter.

Third, there's certainly no evidence that the ACLU is one of the "ones attacking this man," which is what the comment seemed to me to imply (though I suppose it's possible that the "They" refers back only to "liberals" and not both to "liberals" and the "ACLU"). And to the extent that the assertion is just a loose way of saying that the ACLU supports campus speech code, that assertion is mistaken. As I noted before, the ACLU has generally opposed campus speech code. In Iota Xi v. GMU, the first federal court of appeals case striking down college speech codes (in 1993), the ACLU of Virginia filed an amicus brief in favor of the plaintiffs, who were punished for putting on a skit in blackface. According to a Nat Hentoff column — and Hentoff has long been a vocal opponent of speech codes — the two earlier district court cases that ultimately struck down campus speech codes, in Michigan and in Wisconsin, were filed by local ACLU affiliates.

In Newsom v. Albemarle County School Bd., a 2003 court of appeals case, the ACLU backed a high school student's right to wear an NRA T-shirt (surely a "non-liberal voice[]"). For another recent example of an ACLU chapter's interceding on behalf of allegedly racially offensive speakers, see here. And the national ACLU's 1994 position statement on the subject condemns campus speech codes; I believe the national ACLU's anti-speech-code policy was adopted in 1991 (though there was a good deal of dissent within the ACLU about it, especially, I'm told, in the California chapters).

I've criticized the ACLU in the past on various matters, and I'm sure I will again; I think they're mistaken on many matters. But unfounded criticism is both itself wrong, and undermines the well-founded kind.

UPDATE: (1) Just to make explicit what I thought was implicit in "Second," but on reflection might not be clear. The ACLU doesn't just litigate but also sometimes speaks out in other ways; "First" is intended to explain why it can't litigate here, and "Second" notes one reason why it might not have spoken up.

(2) Commenter Jonathan Sawmiller -- presumably the fellow involved in the original story -- reports that "the ASBSU Ways and Means Committee indefinitely tabled the proposed Senate Bill #10," so that the restriction being discussed here "shouldn't be appearing in ASBSU code anytime soon."

27 Comments