My beloved alma mater, Penn State, disappoints me.
Thousands of high school students across the land will walk out of class March 14 to protest gun violence. That’s one month to the day after the horrific school shooting in Florida in which 17 people were killed.
The students have their First Amendment right to protest.
However, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, since the law most everywhere requires students to go to school, “schools can typically discipline students for missing class, even if they’re doing so to participate in a protest or otherwise express themselves.”
Which leads us back to Penn State.
Penn State recently posted on its Twitter feed that high school students “disciplined for walking out or otherwise staging a respectful and peaceful protest against gun violence” are assured it will not have an adverse effect on Penn State’s admission decision when it reviews their application.
The problem occurs with these three words: “against gun violence.”
Why did Penn State qualify the subject matter for the protest? Because the subject matter should not matter when it comes to the First Amendment – unless, for example, it’s hate speech.
For the record, I am against gun violence, but that is not the concern here. The alarm is politicizing the issue, which I suggest Penn State could be doing.
You see, I highly doubt Penn State would turn a blind eye for students disciplined for walking out of school to peacefully support the Second Amendment, or seeking to pray in school, or demanding that their teachers get pay raises.
As far as I can tell, this is a historic announcement, perhaps the first time Penn State has ever made this kind of statement.
But why qualify this stance by limiting it to gun violence?
All Penn State had to do was drop those three words from its tweet: “against gun violence.”
That’s what the University of Connecticut did in its recent tweet: “UConn would like to assure students who have applied or been admitted to the university that disciplinary action associated with participation in peaceful protests will not affect your admission decision in any way.”
Maybe it was an oversight at Penn State.
Or maybe it was intentional. Perhaps Penn State is tacitly encouraging students to take a political stand that Penn State administrators support.
And for a public institution collecting taxpayer funds from people of all political persuasions, that is troubling.