For the first time since 2010, Southern Methodist University is prohibiting a memorial display honoring those who lost their lives on 9/11 from being erected in a prominent campus area.
SMU administrators say allowing the display on the centrally located Dallas Hall lawn, where it has been for several years, would be in violation of a new policy that states that the school “respects the right of all members of the academic community to be free from coercion and harassment.”
“Reasonable limitations may be placed on the time, place and manner of such expression activities in order to serve the interest of health and safety, prevent interference in the conduct of university business, and protect against the infringement of the rights of others.”
The memorial display consists of nearly 3,000 flags for every life lost in the 2001 attack, and a sign that says “Young Americans for Freedom,” the name of the student group that sets up the display, as well as a sign that says “9/11, Never Forget.”
Members of Young Americans for Freedom say they are shocked that SMU views the memorial as political or potentially offensive to some people.
Reasonable limitations may be placed on the time, place and manner of such expression activities in order to serve the interest of health and safety, prevent interference in the conduct of University business, and protect against the infringement of the rights of others.
“We’re confused and flabbergasted,” said Whitney Babin, a member of College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom, to Fox News. “September 11 is a fact, it’s something that happened. Last year, we had a memorial service, we raised our flags, someone played TAPS. It’s not a controversial thing. We’re so shocked.”
University officials say they respect the concept of the memorial for September 11, but that all activities that fall under their new policy on lawn displays, among other things, are being affected. The new policy on lawn displays requires them to move to another spot on campus that student groups say is remote, almost hidden.
They say they’re not singling out the Young Americans for Freedom display and that they are committed to respecting free speech.
“This new policy applies to all lawn displays,” said Ken Best, spokesman for SMU. “SMU moved all lawn displays from the previous location, a portion of the Dallas Hall lawn.”
In addition to raising concern about offensive and coercive messages, SMU officials also attributed their denial of the Sept. 11 memorial display on the main campus area to logistics.
The Dawn Hall lawn, Best said, “is used by campus community members as a place for studying, outdoor classes and a variety of University events throughout the year.”
That just sounds like an excuse to students like Grant Wolf, chairman and founder of the college chapter of Young Americans for Freedom.
Their policy made a statement about avoiding offensive messages, and the sentient of respecting free speech, but also a right to avoid it. Those are diametrically opposed.
“Their policy made a statement about avoiding offensive messages, and the sentiment of respecting free speech, but also a right to avoid it,” Wolf said to Fox News. “Those are diametrically opposed.”
The students believe that complaints about pro-choice and anti-abortion displays last year made university officials skittish, and prompted them to turn to overzealous measures that swept up all displays.
Liberal student groups have given their support to Young Americans for Freedom, and criticized the university’s move.
“I do not think the University was specifically targeting the 9/11 memorial nor acting with malicious intent,” said Cecily Cox, president of the College Democrats at the university. “Rather, the university was attempting to shield students of potential ‘triggering’ material."
"However, while attempting to protect students, the university is unintentionally undermining the free speech of students and other community members who wish to express their views and exercise their right to participate in nonviolent civil disobedience.”
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.