Has the First Amendment to the United States Constitution been suspended at the University of Maryland in College Park? Has my alma mater become a place where diversity of thought and speech are no longer paramount to the campus experience?
Because of a petition, sponsored by the Muslim Student Association, signed by less than one percent of the student body, the showing of the film American Sniper has been cancelled. The film, about a decorated American war hero, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who served four tours of duty in Iraq, has been dubbed controversial mostly by people who have yet to view the movie.
Just another example of political correctness on a college campus. This backfired at the University of Michigan where the film was to be shown, then cancelled due to the complaints of a handful of students, but ultimately that decision was reversed. Free speech and expression fully on display at Michigan.
If the folks at the Muslim Student Association, or anyone else for that matter, do not want to see this film, don’t go. This is not a required class assignment, and no one is forcing anyone to the theater. But don’t inflict your antipathy toward the film on those who do wish to see it. And how can it be condemned by people who have yet to actually see the movie?
What happened to the free and open exchange of ideas?
Recalling another controversial film, The Passion of the Christ (2004), and the condemnation leading up to its release, there was discussion about the film at the Alexandria, VA synagogue to which I once belonged. I believed then, as I do now, that it was important to see the film, then, have an intelligent and intellectual dialogue about its merits and shortcomings. That is what occurred then, and should occur now on the College Park campus.
I applaud Breyer Hillegas, president of the University of Maryland College Republicans who enlisted members of his board to garner signatures on a petition of their own. In less than a day, they managed to compile more than 450 signatures of people who wanted to see American Sniper as well as of those who, while not interested in seeing the film, support the First Amendment.
The Student Entertainment Events (S.E.E.) Committee should reinstate the event to show American Sniper on May 6 and 7 as originally scheduled, and hold a post-film dialogue, moderated by S.E.E. in the theater or by Dr. Wallace Loh, president of the university himself.
I have forwarded this letter/column to Dr. Loh and recommend that your comments be dispatched to him as well. Politely inform him that you wish the university reinstate the two day showing of American Sniper for those people who believe in, and support the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Dr. Loh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-405-5803.
A university should be a beacon of free speech, critical thinking, and expanding one’s base of learning, and experiences. However, what is not free is the cost of attending a university, the cost of running a university. Should the University of Maryland, my alma mater, continue to acquiesce to the demands of the very few, financial supporters of the university who support the freedom of speech and expression, who support the First Amendment of the Constitution, should speak with their wallets and have their voices heard loud and clear, that we will withhold future contributions to the school.
Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN. He is a 1988 graduate of the University of Maryland.