Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

October 24, 2008

Things get tricky when politics and public education collide:

College professors have to walk a fine line when showing support for a political candidate or party at Indiana University and other college campuses.

A campaign sign in an IU professor’s office is acceptable, while a sign in the window facing outward is iffy and a sign in the lobby of an academic building is most likely against the law, school officials said.

Posters, buttons and bumper stickers from individual staff or faculty members are allowed, but the university as an institution cannot make political endorsements.

“There are just no simple answers,” Michael Klein, IU associate university counsel, told The Herald-Times. “I think signs in windows in which the signs go outward could clearly look like an endorsement of the university’s.”

Sounds a little bit like the convolutions public schools go through over religion. It’s OK to have a Bible in the school library, but there can’t be one on a teacher’s desk! That would imply the teacher is a Christian, and somebody might think that religion has the school’s imprimatur!

Yes, tricky business, this free speech stuff. Back during the first Gulf war (you remember — the one that was over so quick the American people didn’t have time to turn against it), a newspaper editor in this town wouldn’t let his staff members wear yellow ribbons in support of loved ones in the war zone. Somebody might infer that the newspaper was taking America’s side in a war! People might not think It could be objective!

Oh, and this is rich:

Law professor Alex Tanford said the university has not attempted to tell professors what they can and cannot do. He said it’s rare for signs before an election to be so one-sided at the school as is the case this year.

I’ll give you one guess who all the signs are for.


One Response to “Signs, signs, everywhere a sign”

  1. Doug Says:

    >>I’ll give you one guess who all the signs are for.<<
    The most popular candidate?

    The tricky part isn’t “free” speech exactly, it’s distinguishing between private speech and public speech. Different rules of speech apply for public entities than apply to private individuals. The line gets blurry when you try to figure out “who” exactly is speaking. Government can’t endorse religion, but an individual can. So, you have to figure out when an elected official, for example, is speaking for himself and when he is speaking for the government. That was the troubling question in the case of Indiana’s House of Representatives when endorsements of Christianity were coming from the Speaker’s podium.

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