The College Republicans at San Francisco State University thought they were engaging in one of the most important acts of free assembly and expression when they demonstrated against recognized terrorist organizations Hezbollah and Hamas. Unknown to the students, the flags of the two organizations, which were walked over in the demonstration, contain the word "Allah" in Arabic script. Another student complained, alleging "acts of incivility," "intimidation," and the creation of a "hostile environment." The school responded with disciplinary action against the College Republicans. The College Republicans claimed that SFSU's speech codes were facially invalid, and with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund and the support of FIRE's Speech Codes Litigation Project, sued the university. The lawsuit ultimately resulted in an injunction against SFSU, effectively striking down the speech codes for the entire California State University system.
The above was posted on the website of an organization called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE. The event they are referring to, took place on the campus of the University of San Francisco in 2006 when a group of Young Republicans held a demonstration against terrorism that included tromping on flags with Allah written in Arabic.
A rally ... turned tumultuous when two flags believed to contain the Arabic symbol for Allah, or God, were trampled on by members of SF States College Republicans. The makeshift flags were those of Hezbollah and Hamas, two Islam-based political parties in the Middle East designated by the United States as terrorist organizations. Leigh Wolf, a member of the College Republicans, said the group was unaware of what the Arabic symbols meant until some Muslim students brought it to their attention. (1)
According to FIRE the students came to them, but I believe, and so do a great many others, that this entire thing was carefully staged, in an attempt to create a hostile environment for Arab and Muslim students on campus, not just in San Fran but "for the entire California State University system."
Under the watch of at least five campus police officers, including Police Chief Kirk Gaston, the College Republican-sponsored rally in support of the war on terror at Malcolm X Plaza morphed into a heated and emotional exchange of words. Some audience members said they thought the College Republicans were being insensitive to their religion. Its the equivalent of stepping on the cross. How would Christians feel ...
In front of the American flag-draped stage the College Republicans erected a cardboard coffin with a tombstone reading R.I.P. to symbolize innocent lives lost to terrorist attacks, Clark said. I definitely expected people to be upset, said Wolf. But you know what? I don't really care what they think of us desecrating the flags of terrorists."
... For Sean Ajayi, an SF State student who lived in Saudi Arabia for three years, the incident only encapsulates the often-volatile relationship between the College Republicans and Muslim students and the need for a more formal forum for debate. All this does is stir up rhetoric, Ajayi said ... stomping on flags with the Arabic sign for God stings for Sharef Al Najjar, 22, an SF State student studying international business and a Muslim Student Association member. The fact that God was on the flag, it was offensive to me and other Muslims, Najjar said. You don't get to step on people's religions. (1)
According to the Golden Gate Express, these clashes had been going on for some time, but once FIRE got involved, it is now legal for students to commit hate crimes against Muslims on university campuses in the entire state of California.
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
Two of the organizations funding FIRE are The John Templeton Foundation, whose mission statement includes an attempt to "... encourage the integration of religious beliefs and free-market principles into the classroom", and the Sarah Scaife Foundation*, a name that comes up a lot with these Right-Wing groups. "By 1999, the Washington Post reported that the Scaife's foundations had given $340 million to conservative causes and institutions. By 2002, they held more than $320 million in assets, and in that year alone they gave away more than $22 million." (SourceWatch)
Two groups that have received money from Scaife are The Atlas Economic Research Foundation, which also gives money to our own "FIRE" group, the Canadian Constitution Foundation, and The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, which I mentioned here.
The Canadian Constitution Foundation was founded by one of Stephen Harper's MPs, John Weston, who when speaking of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, stated: “It’s here, there’s not much point in wishing it weren’t. Now, we need to make it mean what it is supposed to mean ... Conservatives must reclaim it for conservative values.” (2) Weston is also involved with the Christian Legal Fellowship, and holds weekly "devotionals" at his law firm. (3) (Like CLF, FIRE also takes on what they deem to be religious persecution cases)
The current director of CCF, John Carpay was a Reform Party candidate and worked on the leadership campaign of Stockwell Day. CCF has told me that he will be stepping own soon. I wonder if he'll get a job in Harper's office. That's where most of them seem to end up.
Freedom of speech is important but my concern is the way these challenges are being initiated. The only "freedom of speech" they appear to advocate, is the right to potentially incite hatred. The subtext is almost always Muslims, homosexuals or abortion.
They never take on cases of students being silenced for speaking out against Israeli apartheid. Quite the opposite. That's where the danger lies. They are taking sides in a culture war, where only they are allowed to determine the enemy. And they have vast resources and political clout to it.
*Recently, however, the Scaife Family Foundation came under the control of Scaife's daughter Jennie and has changed focus. It continues to give some money to conservative causes, but most of its funding now goes to nonpolitical projects such as medical programs, treatment for substance abuse (a problem for several family members) and animal welfare. Jennie Scaife said that her father doesn't support her spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Planned Parenthood, which supports abortion rights. However, the Charlotte Observer reported in July 2003 that Scaife donated money to Children Requiring A Caring Community, which pays poor women, especially those addicted to drugs, either to be sterilized or to undergo long-term birth control. (SourceWatch)
1. College Republican Rally Causes Uproar: Group Tramples On Flags, Angering Muslim Students. by Jason Shuffler, Golden Gate Express, October 17, 2006
2. New MP profile: West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea-to-Sky's John Weston: B.C. voters elected six first-time MPs this week. The Sun will profile each of these new federal politicians in the coming days. Today we talk to John Weston, the new MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea-to-Sky, By Vancouver Sun, October 16, 2008
3. Too Close for Comfort: Canada's Future Within Fortress North America, By Maude Barlow, McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 2005, ISBN: 0-7710-1088-5