News, University News

U. condemns anti-Semitic speech, signs

Neo-Nazi on campus prompts U. to navigate competing obligations to First Amendment, Civil Rights Act of 1964

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

On July 31, the University received reports that two individuals unaffiliated with Brown filmed videos of themselves displaying anti-Semitic signs and attempting to converse with members of the Brown community on and around campus. While the actions of the individuals, who were later identified by the Anti-Defamation League as the neo-Nazi and former Senate candidate Patrick Little and a member of his team, were condemned by the University, the administration stated that the incident was protected by the First Amendment.

“We are saddened that some Brown community members and campus visitors had to witness such abhorrent behavior. While Brown’s campus is private property, it does abut public streets, and one of Brown’s Public Safety officers instructed the individuals that their activities had to move to public property,” wrote Shontay Delalue, vice president of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, in a community-wide email. “The unfortunate reality is that hate speech activities that occur on the public city sidewalks and streets that intersect campus are beyond Brown’s control.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education echoed the University’s summary of its constraints. “Because the government-owned sidewalk is a traditional public forum, speakers have a constitutional right to speak there, even if they’re crazy, bigots or both,” wrote Adam Goldstein, an attorney with FIRE, in an email to The Herald. “Unless they engage in speech or activities that are actually unprotected by the First Amendment, those speakers can’t be moved or silenced using government authority. And since it’s a government sidewalk, only the government would have the authority.”

Historically, free speech protections have been upheld by courts in similar cases regarding private universities. In 1978, Chris Schmid, who was not a Princeton student, was arrested for trespassing while distributing political materials on Princeton’s campus without administrative permission. The New Jersey Supreme Court ultimately ruled in Schmid’s favor, claiming that his “rights of speech and assembly under the New Jersey Constitution had been violated.”

Though the University lacks the authority to censor speech on public property intersecting campus, it does have an obligation under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to “avoid permitting the campus to become a hostile environment for members of protected classes, including religion,” Goldstein wrote. Given the circumstances of the incident, the University’s condemnation of the activity was a reasonable fulfillment of this expectation, he added.

In the wake of this incident, the University continues to encourage affected students to take advantage of the resources available, such as DPS and the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity.

In addition, “Hillel is a source of support and counsel for Brown and RISD students who have experienced bias-related incidents — whether on campus or elsewhere,” wrote Dan Ehrenkrantz, acting executive director of Brown/RISD Hillel, in an email to The Herald.

“Although incidents like these are very disheartening, I take comfort in knowing that the Brown community stands united against prejudice and bigotry,” Delalue wrote.

Patrick Little declined to comment without a fee.