School verdict turns freedom on its ear

Published 2:03 am Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Tasteless Halloween costumes have led to the suspension of two Auburn University fraternities that saw members show up for a Halloween party dressed in ways that would make most African Americans cringe and that would make most progressive Southerners furious.
I am one of those who are outraged by the behavior that included one fraternity member dressed in full KKK garb holding a noose around the neck of another member dressed in blackface.
Talk about a tasteless joke.
The guys who did this apparently don't understand that their actions perpetuate a national belief that Alabama still fails to make progress in areas of freedom and equality. Their actions make many Americans believe that what happened at the Pettus Bridge in Selma was in vain.
But I would like to think of the situation as a moronic and sophomoric joke that took a social evil, the likes of which has seldom been seen, and attempted to make fun of it. And any joke that makes light of the fact that we once killed our own people because of the color of their skin, we are indeed being shallow, offensive, ignorant and hateful.
That said, there is something that I find more disturbing than the images of college kids hiding beneath hoods and wearing blackface at a Halloween party.
The story, reported by the Birmingham News, states that the AU student handbook states that "slurs, jokes or other graphic or physical conduct related to a student's race, color … will be treated as a disciplinary matter."
When a state institution chooses to punish students for their expression of free speech tasteless as it is I become offended.
While I detest the tenements of the KKK, I also love and the law of the land that protects speech, assembly and expression more.
After all, this is a free country, isn't it?
What I find reprehensible is that someone can burn an American flag something that offends almost all Americans and suffer less than someone who wears blackface and a KKK hood to a party, thereby offending a segment of the population.
What I also find a little hard to swallow is that a state school can have a policy that goes against our Constitutional protection of freedom of expression and speech.
I support any policy that would treat physical threats or violence seriously, but I don't support one that would make it OK to kick an entire fraternity off campus because a couple of members decided to dress in a tasteless fashion. If violence were used or if threats were made, I think the school has an obligation to get involved. But this is a matter of clothing
Where does it end? People died for our freedom. And freedom has its costs. It can be offensive. It can be detestable. It often isn't politically correct. It sometimes isn't fair. But freedom is guaranteed to all of us in this country.
Certainly the national fraternity chapter can take action on this. After all, this is an issue relating to conduct codes to which its members are held. But for the school a state sponsored school at that to suspend the chapter is too much. Certainly I think school officials should make statements condemning the action. But to allow the school to take action would be a terrible breech of Constitutional protection guaranteed by the state.
Let's not forsake the tenements of freedom for political correctness. Let's let the fraternity handle matters such as these.
Brian Blackley is publisher of The Atmore Advance. Contact him via e-mail at or call him at 368-2123.

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