The University of Cleveland president is facing backlash from students after claiming that homophobic posters put up around the school are protected by free speech, and therefore won't be removed, BuzzFeed reports.
The posters depict the silhouette of a person hanging from a noose, surrounded by statistics about how many LGBTQ people consider or attempt suicide, and emblazoned with the words "follow your fellow faggots." A group that goes by "Fascist Solutions" claimed responsibility for the posters.
A statement sent to students, faculty, and staff from Cleveland State president Ronald Berkman Monday claims that the university respects and is inclusive of all people "regardless of age, race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and other historical bases for discrimination." But, the statement says, the school also has a responsibility to uphold people's First Amendment right to free speech "even with regard to controversial issues where opinion is divided."
Students at the school aren't happy with the response, and some are calling it "an endorsement of violence."
School officials did remove two of the posters, but said they did so only because they didn't follow posting rules.
"Two posters were removed by CSU Facilities Services because proper posting procedure was not followed," William Dube, the university's spokesperson, told WOIO-TV. "Prior approval needs to be provided before posters are added to that billboard."
Berkman issued another statement Tuesday, saying that he "failed to express my personal outrage." He reiterated that "the legal framework regarding free speech makes it difficult to prevent these messages from being disseminated," but assured students, faculty, and staff that he's committed to the safety of the campus for all people.
While it's terrible to think about, Berkman is right — the law is on the side of the posters, even though they promote hate speech.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that hate speech is not an exception to the First Amendment, The Washington Post reported. Justice Samuel Alito said in an opinion, "[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend… strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express 'the thought that we hate.'"
Berkman has invited students and staff at the school to join him in an open office meeting Wednesday to discuss their concerns.
If you are an LGBTQ person thinking about suicide, please call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.
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