Free speech or hate speech?

Pam Tapper

Photo Credit: Pam Tapper / Staff Reporter
Photo Credit: Pam Tapper / Staff Reporter

A picture of President Obama with a Hitler-style mustache adorned a booth on campus during Greek Week. When asked how Obama compared with Hitler, the response was, “Read the literature.” The young adults manning the booth could not articulate the problem in their own words, but relied heavily on their printed materials. Asked if they were CSUN students, they responded with pride, “Oh no, we are working for the Lyndon LaRouche Political Action Committee.”

Lyndon LaRouche, is an 87-year-old, self-proclaimed economist. He was born in Rochester, New Hampshire in 1922 and attended Northeastern University in Boston, but never finished. He served in the military in World War II between 1944 and 1946. He went to work for his father in the footwear industry in 1947. In 1972, he left the footwear business and began publishing his own works of philosophy and science. He has run for president eight times since 1976. He ran once with the Labor Party and seven times with the Democratic Party. He has run in some primaries, but has never made it to the general election. He believes that Obama’s healthcare plan compares to Hitler’s healthcare plan of 1939, thus the Hitler-style mustache on Obama’s picture.

Concerned that non-students had a booth on campus, I inquired with the Matador Involvement Center, of the Student Affairs Department, as to what an organization has to do to get a booth on campus. I was told that a student organization had to fill out proper forms and paperwork and be approved to have a booth on campus. I asked how a non-student group like the Lyndon LaRouche Political Action Committee could have a booth on campus. The reply was that as long as they comply with their paperwork, they do not obstruct traffic and they do not go into any school buildings, they have a right to be on state property. I told the Matador Involvement Center that the young adults at LaRousche’s booth were not CSUN students. Matador Involvement was aware of this and told me that, “They are paid activists.”

After observing the distorted picture of President Obama, English professor, Elyce Wakerman said, “My first reaction to the poster was shock. Hitler is like the symbol of evil and to put his mustache on a face is to demonize the person. It’s demonizing Obama without any basis. It’s hate speech.”

Professor Wakerman went on to say, “I have relatives that were killed in the Holocaust, and for me the image was troubling. If I had to look at that poster every day, it would be very chilling to me.” Professor Wakerman asked the people in the booth how Obama compared with Hitler, and their response was, “He (Obama) wants to kill us if we get too expensive.”

When asked about the claim of hate speech, CSUN media law professor, Jens Koepke said, “It sounds like the speech doesn’t come close to constituting legal hate speech.” He asked, “Does this speech constitute ‘fighting words’ as the Supreme Court defined it? Does the speech pose an imminent threat of violence or an incitement to violence or an attempt to intimidate?”

The distorted, Hitler-like picture may not be hate speech. It may not pose an imminent threat of violence or incite to violence or attempt to intimidate, but it is hurtful and offensive and a form of abuse. With professor Waterman’s family history, to have to look at a reminder of the man who caused her family’s tragedy, is abuse to her, and to anyone else whose family was involved in the Holocaust.

Hitler is the epitome of evil. To put his mustache on a picture is to malign the subject, to defile it and to demonize it.  Imagine the pride of black students to have the first African American President in the history of the United States, only to have the president maligned, defiled and demonized, by such a picture. It is insulting to all American citizens to have their elected president to be dishonored in such a way.

Would it be possible to distinguish between Greek Week and a political week? Could we have a political week later in the semester, where any political organization could come on campus and express their views, no matter how far left or how far right they might be. We could leave Greek Week for just fraternities and sororities and campus organizations and associations.

CSUN is a very liberal school and we accept any point of view, but the first week of school should just be to showcase our campus organizations and associations for new students. It doesn’t need to be controversial. This year students are so confused as to which classes they will get and which classes have been dropped or closed. They are just trying to get settled into their classes and settled into school. They don’t need to be bombarded with the additional stress of having our president vilified. Perhaps the Matador Involvement Center could be a little more sensitive in the future during the first week of school.