Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter Friday to the University of Minnesota–Morris after one of its professors encouraged students to trash all copies of an independent student publication because of the views it expressed. The following day, all the papers disappeared from their bins. Police say they are investigating.
Since that time, another edition of the frequently satire-driven conservative paper has been defaced. The ADF letter asks the university itself to investigate, publicly condemn the thefts, and take steps to protect the paper from further violations of its First Amendment freedoms.
“Universities should encourage the free exchange of ideas. They should not stand idly by while some people in the campus community engage in unconstitutional censorship,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker. “While professors and other members of the UMM community are entitled to their personal opinions, they are not entitled to incite theft or deface property.”
In November of last year, an entire edition of The North Star, an independent campus publication published by a university-approved student organization, was stolen from campus distribution bins the day after UMM Professor Paul Z. Myers wrote a blog post inciting students to trash the paper because of its views. Myers, who called the newspaper a “disgrace,” wrote in the post that, “the North Star has worn out its welcome and must go. Treat their scattered papers as a hate-filled trash and dispose of it appropriately.”
Two months later, approximately 100 additional copies of The North Star were defaced with a marker after a pro-life article was featured on the cover. UMM has not publicly condemned any of the actions.
The ADF letter explains that “regardless of Professor Myers’s right to express his opinion about The North Star, as a government employee he has chilled The North Star’s speech by advocating that people steal the paper and throw it in the trash. When a government employee engages in acts that ‘would chill or silence a person of ordinary firmness from future First Amendment activities,’ he violates the First Amendment.”
“We ask UMM to publicly condemn these instances of theft and destruction, investigate what happened, and prosecute those responsible,” added ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “The university must take steps to protect The North Star and all other student publications from such viewpoint-based censorship in the future.”
© 2014 Alliance Defending Freedom