Dispute Over Phallic Drawing on Beach Ball

April 18, 2016

A large beach ball (at right) has set off a debate over free speech at the University of Delaware. The university's chapter of Young Americans for Liberty brought the ball to a campus quad and encouraged people to write whatever they wanted on the beach ball, declaring it to be a "free speech ball." The students were seeking to focus attention on free speech and to promote a screening of the documentary Can We Take a Joke? which is about how objections to some forms of humor may limit comedy on college campuses and elsewhere. One student wrote the word "penis" and drew a penis on the beach ball. Then, according to a letter the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent to the university, a campus police officer came by and said that the word and drawing might violate antiharassment rules at the university. The police officer, whom the student group promptly filmed (below) then outlined a series of other scenarios in which students' writings on the ball could violate university rules.

The letter from FIRE says that the policies, as explained by the police officer, are inconsistent with the First Amendment protections that cover students at a public university. A spokesman for the university said that it has received the letter and is planning to respond.

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