However Hateful, Koala Parody is Protected Speech

SAN DIEGO – Concerned that a potential federal investigation will chill protected free speech, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties today called on the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to resist requests for an investigation of alleged “harassment” arising from a student newspaper’s distasteful parody about a female student running for Homecoming King at California State University, San Marcos.

“No matter how offensive it is, the content of a student newspaper is protected by the First Amendment,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director for the San Diego ACLU. “The Department of Education cannot investigate this incident or take action based on the heavy-handed parody without violating the First Amendment. Especially in an academic setting, the mere notion that an investigation may occur stifles protected speech.”

Last month, The Koala, published a photograph of two women without shirts on, with the face of a female California State University San Marcos student who is running for Homecoming King superimposed on one of the women’s faces.

Even if most people would consider the photograph offensive, the First Amendment protects the “outrageous and outlandish” often contained in parodies. However crudely realized, the parody plainly attempted to lampoon the idea of a woman running for Homecoming King, and in so doing, was exploring a number of relevant questions of interest to the public, including gender roles and sexuality, thereby making it the subject of public comment, praise, criticism or parody.

“The First Amendment protects virtually all speech, no matter how unorthodox, offensive or distasteful,” Blair-Loy wrote in the demand letter to Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Office for Civil Rights. “Officials may express their own opinions about The Koala, and should use the incident as an opportunity to stimulate intellectual exchanges. Bad ideas should be countered with good ones, not banned by the courts.”

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