By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
January 21, 2022
FIRE, an organization that defends the free speech rights of students and faculty on University campuses, is reporting that Duke University’s student government has denied recognition to a pro-Israel club on campus. The decision has also garnered the ire of other civil liberties organizations and even Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul.
Students Supporting Israel (SSI) was first granted recognition on November 10th, only to have their recognition vetoed by the University’s student government president, Christa Wang, five days later. Wang’s veto, which was upheld by Duke’s Student Government (DSG), was based on a student’s tweet referring to SSI’s recognition as the University’s promotion of “settler colonialism.”
When SSI civilly responded on social media, explaining Israel did not fall under that category, the tweeting student complained that SSI’s response was “hostile,” and she didn’t feel safe. DSG now says SSI’s recognition was denied based on their unacceptable action of negatively singling out a student and not on any ideology.
Last week, in a letter to Vincent E. Price, president of Duke University, Sen. Rand Paul said he was writing to express his concern over DSG’s decision, which he deemed “arbitrary and biased.”
The Senator from Kentucky, who graduated from Duke University’s Medical School in 1988, further wrote in his correspondence:
“College should be a place of robust discourse, which all sides are given fair opportunity to voice their position. Denying a student group recognition based on personal or political differences weakens the legitimacy of any academic institution. More voices, more viewpoints, and more debate will always be beneficial to the student body. Robust debate is an important part of college development…
“It should be paramount to Duke University that Students Supporting Israel’s recognition process remains objective, and their status as an official student organization does not hinge on broader predispositions held by some. It is my hope that Duke reevaluates the decision, and Students Supporting Israel are given full recognition as a student organization.”
Despite that Duke was founded by Methodists and Quakers in 1838, the University has demonstrated a clear bias against Judaism and Christianity in recent years.
In 2019 the U.S. Department of Education ordered Duke to remake their Middle East studies program after an investigation found it offered students a one-sided curriculum that didn’t provide sufficient positive imagery of Judaism and Christianity in the region.
During the same year, Duke Student Government also denied recognition to Young Life, a Christian student group on campus, because it held its leaders to a biblical standard of sexual morality – a reasonable faith-based policy that the DSG viewed as not inclusive toward LGBTQ students and therefore a violation of Duke’s nondiscriminatory policy.
In 2015, Duke announced it would allow for a Muslim call to prayer from the University bell tower each Friday, while at the same time silencing evangelical Christianity on homosexuality and abortion. The decision caused a massive backlash from the public and garnered the condemnation of Evangelist Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, and Fox News’ political commentator Tucker Carlson. Duke would later reverse their decision.
The Times of Israel notes that after the U.S. Department of Education’s investigation into Duke’s Middle East studies program, the University agreed to a legally binding resolution. In The Unholy Mess at Duke, The Times rightly argues:
“We’ve seen situations where critics of Israel use language that could be deemed antisemitic, and the critics respond that, if they were to be punished for that language, the punishment would violate their First Amendment right to free speech. At Duke, those who have actually been punished for free speech are Jewish students who have defended Israel—the ‘flip side’ of the typical case. And that raises the question whether, in addition to being punished for exercising their free speech rights, the Duke students are also being discriminated against because they are Jewish…
“DSG’s revocation of SSI’s official recognition, which indisputably punished SSI for its response to the ‘My school promotes settler colonialism’ tweet, violated Duke’s own anti-discrimination policy, which states: ‘[T]he University’s principles of academic freedom … and the related freedom of expression include, but are not limited to, the civil expression of ideas[.]’ Duke’s policy on Pickets, Protests, and Demonstrations provides that all members of the Duke community have the right ‘to explore and to discuss questions which interest them[.]’ And DSG’s own constitution was violated, because it states: ‘[DSG] shall not abridge the freedom of speech, the press, petition, or peaceable assembly or protest.’ (Article IX.)
“The revocation also undeniably violated the First Amendment, with which, pursuant to the Resolution Agreement, Duke must comply. None of the recognized exceptions to protected speech—defamation, true threats to commit a crime, so-called ‘fighting words,’ obscenity, child pornography, and misleading commercial advertising—conceivably apply to the interchange between SSI and the tweeting student.”
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said what’s happening at Duke reflects what’s happening on campuses across the country. He pointed out that a new report from Alums for Campus Fairness, which surveyed students, discovered that 95% of those who participated said antisemitism was an issue. Three out of four described it as a serious problem. Moreover, the survey found half the students said it was getting worse.
“Anyone who has even the most basic understanding of Scripture understands Israel is the apple of God’s eye. They have a unique place in God’s economy. This country owes so much to them – our Judeo-Christian values – Western culture – our laws and policies,” said Rev. Creech. “God’s promise to Abraham in the book of Genesis has been fulfilled, ‘the nations of the world will be blessed through you.’ The world’s Savior, Jesus Christ, comes from the Jewish nation, not to mention Israel, our greatest political ally in the Middle East, perhaps on the globe. I would say that’s plenty reason to support and defend them.”