The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) noted an interesting twist for students who are celebrating Valentine’s Day at the University of New Orleans: any Valentine’s Card must be clearly platonic or risk a violation of the school’s rule against any “suggestive” note or communication. However, from a legal perspective, I would suggest the greater problem is not the Valentines per se but that chubby figure known as Cupid.
By the strict language of the regulations at various schools, a question could be raised where the giving of a classic Valentine is a prohibited activity. After all, how do you send a Valentine card that is not in any way suggestive? UNO’s “Prohibiting Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation” policy classifies “sending suggestive or obscene letters, notes or invitations” as an example of “sexual harassment.”
On one level, Cupid himself is that the personification of a “drug-facilitated sexual assault.” Long before the invention of “date rape drugs,” Cupid was shooting people with magic arrows to make them amenable to love. After all, Cupid is the progeny (and dangerous mix) of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars.
In reality, Cupid in early mythology often employed two different arrows with strikingly different objectives. The one with the golden point created uncontrollable desire while the one with a lead tip produced aversion and a desire to flee. That added element of violence does not help any image of a Cupid being distributed on campus.
Yet, he could also change himself into a bee to inject a mind-numbing drug through involuntary action:
Through this sting was Amor made wiser.
The untiring deceiver
concocted another battle-plan:
he lurked beneath the carnations and roses
and when a maiden came to pick them,
he flew out as a bee and stung her.
Moreover, the Valentine card itself has been used as a means to express long harbored affections, often without invitation.
While not mentioned by FIRE, other schools have similar such rules. Take the rule at the Florida Institute of Technology: which includes “suggestive postings” and “suggestive or obscene letters, notes or invitations.” Various elementary schools also ban any poster or depiction deemed sexual suggestive.
If Cupid is found in violation of such rules, he will have a difficult time defending himself because these terms are undefined, a long-standing objection from civil libertarians. Cupid or his messengers would simply be the subject of a complaint and can be convicted based on purely “circumstantial evidence”
“A violation can also be established if there is circumstantial
evidence of retaliation. Typically this link can be demonstrated if the adverse action took place shortly after the protected activity or if the entity undertaking the adverse action was aware of the individual’s activity before taking the action.”
If Cupid hopes to find a defense in the definition of “protected activity” he will be disappointed. Protected activity is defined as “conduct or activity that is permitted or protected by state and/or federal law or University policy.”
Under the strict interpretation of these rule, Cupid is a violent, drug-inducing, habitual sexual harasser who prowls campuses with the assistance of predatory minions.