Attorney General Bill McCollum strong-armed the University of Florida administration to retract a statement, which criticized the actions of some students on campus and encouraged more civility on campus.
The statement came after student groups like Gators for Israel and the Law School Republicans posted flyers which read: “Radical Islam Wants You Dead,” to advertise a film, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” A justice on the Student Government Supreme Court and organizer also advertised: “This is a documentary the radical Islamic terrorists do not want you to see. Their leadership on campus has admitted tearing down posters advertising this event! . . . It is unfortunate that certain student organization leaders and supporters identify with the small wing of radical Islam. It proves the threat is present even in Gainesville, Florida.”
Islam on Campus (IOC), as the only registered Student Government-sponsored Muslim organization, did not protest the organizers’ exercise of free speech; however, when the organizers falsely portrayed the Muslim leadership as radical, it raised suspicion of them as a security threat, which gave rise to a safety concern.
In response, UF administrator Patricia Telles-Irvin recommended that the students apologize and advised: “One of our roles as a learning institution is to teach our students to express themselves freely, and also in a fair and conscientious manner. In an academic setting, differences of opinions are strongly encouraged, yet such opinions must be based on accurate information when describing other members of the community.”
Telles-Irvin’s letter gave ammunition to a host of right-wing entertainers, such as Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, who invited the president of the Law School Republicans, Christian Waugh, to tantrum about the chilling effect of Telles-Irvin’s statement on his free speech. Attorney General McCollum, then, vowed to keep his subordinate attorneys pumping out legal memorandum on the alleged violation of the constitution by administrators unless the university retracted its statement. The university, indeed, hoisted a white flag to appease the ravenous attorney general, who thereafter decided to let bygones be bygones. . .
I question whether McCollum would rally the taxpayer resources if UF criticized a Muslim student on campus who advertised: “Radical Judaism Wants You Dead,” coupled with a scare campaign that radical Jewish student leaders were hard at work.
It is clear that McCollum’s enforcement of the Constitution is selective at best.
Danette Zaghari-Mask is a University of Florida alumna and executive director of the Orlando chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org