Andrew Shirvell was banned from the University of Michigan campus for his homophobic verbal attacks on student body president Chris Armstrong. But now the school's ACLU chapter says the ban was unconstitutional.
Shirvell gained some infamy after he started a hate blog about Armstrong wherein he accused the student of hosting gay orgies and transforming an innocent conservatives into "a proponent of the radical homosexual agenda." He also picketed Armstrong's house and began appearing at University of Michigan events attended by Armstrong. The latter is why the university banned him. Elie Mystal of Above the Law writes of the ban,
It seemed like the smart thing to do, not just for protection of gays and lesbians at Michigan, but hey, one less tool hanging around campus can't be a bad thing.
The school's ACLU chapter disagrees. They criticize the University's trespass policy for giving the Director of Public Safety "wide discretion in issuing trespass bans," and go on to say,
[T]he First Amendment intentionally and necessarily defends Shirvell's offensive and appalling speech. Our Constitution gives a citizen the right to be a bigot and to freely express his bigotry.
So should universities be able to keep people like Shirvell off campus? In practice, bigots and college quads often go together like, well, bigots and any public place with lots of foot traffic. I still remember the guy who stood outside our student union every day at lunchtime for the better part of a year, holding an incomprehensible sign and screaming about "homosexuals" and "Moslems." He finally disappeared — whether he got bored or was actively booted I'm not sure. But as Mystal points out, there's a difference between the appalling speech of this screamer and that of Shirvell:
Obviously, we don't want a world where state universities are arbitrarily preventing people for coming onto campus and talking to students. If the University of Michigan can ban every gay-basher who comes to campus, the University of Georgia could probably try to ban Barack Obama.
But Shirvell wasn't showing up to Michigan to speak to students about the important anti-gay issues of the day. He was on campus to harass and intimidate one particular kid. The hate he felt for an entire group of people was focused on one person.
Mystal draws a distinction between indiscriminately spewing hate and specifically targeting one student, and I think he's absolutely right. Universities may not be able to protect their students from all bigotry (though if it crosses the line into threats or inciting violence they can and should do so), but they should be able to protect them from personal harassment of the kind Armstrong was suffering. Defending free speech fosters open debate, but defending a harasser actually stifles it, by making people afraid to speak up in the first place.
University Of Michigan Student ACLU Defends Andrew Shirvell [Above The Law]
ACLU-UM Slams DPS For Banning Shirvell From Campus [Michigan Daily]