Censorship of Anti-Terrorist Art Exhibit Documented

PHILADELPHIA, September 27, 2010—A new short film by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) documents the experience of Penn State student artist Joshua Stulman, whose "Portraits of Terror" art exhibit was censored by the university because it satirized Islamic terrorism. Stulman is just one of numerous college students and faculty members who have been silenced for discussing or criticizing Islamic extremism.

"Joshua Stulman’s art exhibit was censored not once but twice: first because administrators didn’t like what it had to say, and later out of fear that violence would ensue if his artwork were shown on campus," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "This should be totally unacceptable in the United States. Instead, censorship like this is an all-too-common occurrence at our colleges and universities."

Stulman calls the censored exhibit a "visual thesis" about how terrorism works in the Palestinian territories. Three days before "Portraits of Terror" was to debut at Penn State, he was told that his exhibit was canceled because, among other things, it "did not promote cultural diversity." Although Penn State President Graham Spanier eventually overturned this decision, the exhibit was never presented at Penn State. A later exhibition planned at Gratz College in Philadelphia was canceled for fear of violence.

Criticism of Islamic terrorism or Islam in general is increasingly being punished and silenced on our college campuses. At San Francisco State University, members of the College Republicans club who stomped on hand-drawn Hamas and Hezbollah flags during an anti-terrorism protest were investigated by the university for several months. The club ultimately prevailed in a First Amendment lawsuit against the university. At Tufts University, a campus newspaper was punished for "harassment" after printing unflattering but verifiable facts about Islam during the school’s "Islamic Awareness Week," such as the fact that author Salman Rushdie was forced into hiding after writing The Satanic Verses, as well as quotations from the Koran. Tufts’ refusal to overturn this finding led to Tufts’ inclusion on FIRE’s "Red Alert" list of the worst campuses in America for free speech.

"Yale University Press’ shameful decision last year to strip the Danish Mohammed cartoons from author Jytte Klausen’s book The Cartoons That Shook the World prompted national outrage. Joshua Stulman’s case demonstrates that Yale was not the first university to censor art that could be considered offensive to Islam, nor is it likely to be the last," Lukianoff said.

The video "Portraits of Terror," produced by FIRE’s Sweidy Stata Video Fellow Joe Stramowski, is the second short film in a series examining how debate on the most contentious issues in America today is being silenced by campus authoritarians. The first, "Empty Holsters," exposes censorship of the debate over concealed carry of firearms on campus and is available on FIRE’s website.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; [email protected]

Please support FIRE’s efforts to restore liberty on campus by giving a tax-deductible donation.