To the Daily:

We, along with the rest of this campus, have been shocked and disturbed by Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell’s repugnant anti-gay statements and signs. Discrimination against the LGBT community or any community must always be taken seriously. We, as a University community, must respond appropriately and with great thought.

The First Amendment intentionally and necessarily defends Shirvell’s offensive and appalling speech. Our Constitution gives a citizen the right to be a bigot and to freely express his bigotry. When this inflammatory speech becomes a direct threat and infringes on an individual’s right to live free from threat of harm, the police and the courts must step in to protect the attacked individual. The University’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union supports the court’s role in deciding this extremely important but non-distinct line between free speech and a true threat.

The ACLU-UM Undergraduate Chapter stands strong in our support and admiration of Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong’s continued leadership in enacting an open housing policy in the face of these despicable attacks. This policy remains important in working to end discrimination against transgender students on this campus.

The ACLU believes that the best way to combat hateful speech is more speech, not censorship or government retaliation. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox is right to distance himself and his office from Shirvell’s personal speech. But it’s important that before Cox acts to discipline Shirvell and before we try Shirvell in the court of public opinion, we allow the legal court to decide if Shirvell’s speech and conduct has crossed the line into harassment, stalking or some sort of true threat. Instead, we must work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBT community and continue our advocacy for policies like open housing that demand these rights.

This letter was written by Mallory Jones and Bennett Stein on behalf of the ACLU-UM Undergraduate Chapter.

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