While Creighton University is not a state school subject to First Amendment protections, it still guarantees students free speech. The school follows Ignatian principles, the moral dictates of the 16th-century Spanish saint Ignatius of Loyola and founder of the Jesuit order. It declares:
“It is because of these commitments that we embrace freedom of thought and expression. Essential elements in the Ignatian tradition emphasize active dialogue and the innate dignity of each member of our community.
‘Contemporary student activism creates both challenges and opportunities on college campuses. The issues that stimulate student activism vary widely as organizers target immigration bans, sexual assault, tuition increases, discrimination, investment in fossil fuels, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and a host of other concerns. Protests can be large or small, global or local, in person or online, single or multi issue.'(Harrison & Mather, 2017).”
While the list does not include more conservative causes like gun rights, it affirmatively assures students that they will be afforded free expression on campus.
The subjects of the email were student members of Young Americans for Liberty and they were further told that, if they wanted to challenge the ban, they would have to fill out paperwork to host a distinct “Controversial Event” to distribute a petition. That requirement itself raises concerns. What constitutes a “controversial event”? Would that include pro-choose or pro-immigration events or petitions? Is any political cause considered “controversial” or does the university apply a selective application of this rule? It would seem an invitation for arbitrary and capricious designations.
The gun rights are protected under the Constitution, but the University is saying that, if you want to argue for gun rights, you cannot show a gun. It is reminiscent of Yale University Press telling an author that you can write a book on the controversy over showing cartoons of Muhammad so long as you do not actually show the cartoons in question.
Creighton University’s ban is wrong on many levels. It is an intentional, selective, and biased burden placed on gun rights advocates. It is also not clear how this rule applies to classes, which must inevitably show such images. Presumably, academic freedom will still allow a World War II history class to show images from World War II. Yet, you cannot display the same images just outside the door of the classroom.
If taken literally (as one assumes is the intention of the school), it would result in absurd results. Under this approach, Emanuel Leutze’s George Washington Crossing the Delaware would be banned from political posters:
Students using current or vintage posters for military recruiting would be banned.
It would also ban students from creating a National Rifle Association chapter that shows the NRA symbol:
In the end, the ban on the imagery of guns is a gratuitous and selective burden placed on advocates for the Second Amendment. The University should reverse this position. After all,“He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself.”