U of Kansas Says ‘Public Safety’ Concerns Led to Removal of Defaced Flag

An art piece called Untitled (Flag 2), flies on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kan., Wednesday, July 11, 2018. It is part of a series of flag pieces that have flown on the Lawrence campus in the last several months as part of a national art project. (AP …
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

The University of Kansas came under fire last week after they removed a defaced American flag from an art display on campus.

The flag, which featured two distorted black boxes and a black and white socks representing the imprisonment of children at the border, was taken down after school officials received a threatening phone call about its presence. School officials have since cited campus safety as a justification for the flag’s removal.

The University of Kansas faced criticism from both sides of the political aisle last week after they removed a defaced American flag from an art display on campus. Conservatives argued that the flag should be removed because it should never be desecrated. Civil liberties groups argued that removing the flag would violate the First Amendment rights of the artist.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) argues that the University of Kansas must prove that the threat was legitimate. Otherwise, the group believes that the rights of the flag artist were violated.

It did not address the severity of such concerns, the existence of any actual threats, nor the credibility of any such threats. These omissions, together with the proximity of your announcement following demands by [Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach] raise suspicion that KU’s course of action was aimed to quell outrage over the exhibit rather than address credible threats in an effective and speech-protective manner.

First Amendment activists are concerned that the University of Kansas has sent a message to those capable of making threats against the university. The message? That a simple threat is enough for them to opt for censorship.

“If KU has legitimate ‘public safety concerns,’ it should tell the public what they are,” Will Creeley, FIRE’s senior vice president for legal and public advocacy said in a statement. “Would-be censors have learned that an angry phone call might be all it takes to revoke the First Amendment at the University of Kansas. Successful tactics will be repeated, and KU has a non-negotiable obligation to stand up for free speech.”

 

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