Both as a matter of law and as a matter of public policy, student organizations at public universities are entitled to invite speakers of their choosing to address the student body, no matter how controversial the speaker or the speaker's message. However, the fact that student groups have the right to invite whom they want does not shield them from criticism when they select a speaker whose message is repugnant.
Such a speaker is Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, who is scheduled to give the keynote address at the 2nd Annual "Black United Summit International." The summit, which is taking place Friday and Saturday on the campus of Morgan State University, is sponsored by the Morgan State University Student Government Association.
In addition to promoting an anti-white philosophy, Louis Farrakhan has a long record of demonizing Jews and the State of Israel. As noted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Minister Farrakhan "blames the Jews for the slave trade, plantation slavery, Jim Crow, sharecropping and general black oppression." Mr. Farrakhan's speeches are rife with anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories, often referring to "satanic Jews" and "the synagogue of Satan," and accusing Jews of having a "stranglehold" on the U.S. government. A complete list of Mr. Farrakhan's long history of Jew-baiting can be found on the website of the Anti Defamation League.
Consistent with his slander of the Jewish people, Minister Farrakhan is equally defamatory toward the Jewish state. This past summer, his newspaper, The Final Call, described Israel's battle against the rockets launched against its cities by Hamas as "a continuation of the history and bloody policy of the Zionist state and its unapologetic effort to virtually exterminate civilians and wipe Palestine off the map." Mr. Farrakhan has denounced Israelis as "liars, thieves, murderers" who have "taken the position of God" and are out to "kill everybody."
Even if Minister Farrakhan avoids entirely the topics of Jews and Israel on Nov. 22, the date he's scheduled to speak, his mere presence at Morgan State University serves to confer legitimacy upon a person whose views should make him a pariah. Ultimately, Mr. Farrakhan's participation at the Black United Summit International represents a failure of judgment on the part of Morgan's Student Government Association that is no less objectionable for it being a legitimate exercise of the SGA's right of free expression.
As distressing as the student government's sponsorship of Minister Farrakhan's keynote address is the response of the leadership of Morgan, which to date, has been one of total silence. Contrast that with the reaction of University of California President Mark Yudof to the appearance of Minister Farrakhan at an "Afrikan Black Coalition Conference" organized by that university's Black Student Union several years ago. While defending the student union's right of free speech, Mr. Yudof denounced Mr. Farrakhan as a "a provocative, divisive figure with a long history of racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic speech," and characterized the invitation for him to speak on campus as "distressing in the extreme."
While leaders of the university cannot (and should not) bar Minister Farrakhan from speaking, they also cannot permit their silence to be taken as tacit endorsement of his presence on campus.
As both public servants and academics, it is incumbent upon them to unequivocally distance the university from Mr. Farrakhan, to reject the student government's choice of Mr. Farrakhan as a speaker, and to alert unwary students to Mr. Farrakhan's toxic messages and views.
Morgan State University is committed to a series of "institutional core values" which guide the promotion of student learning and success, faculty scholarship and research, and community engagement. Among these core values are integrity, respect and diversity. It is time for university leaders to exhibit these values by speaking out against Louis Farrakhan's speech at Morgan on Saturday.
Jay Bernstein is host of Baltimore's weekly Jewish radio program, Shalom USA. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.