Outraged high school students told their school board this week that a comedic campaign video made by the class president was anti-Muslim hate speech, and one student urged administrators to “strip away constitutional protection” for his classmate.
The controversy began when a 17-year-old student, who is unnamed in media accounts, ran on the tongue-in-cheek promise that if he was elected as San Ramon Valley High School’s student body president, he’d protect his classmate from terrorists.
His homemade campaign video, which the student briefly posted on Twitter in February, depicted terrorists abducting him from his bed (implying that he had been caught masturbating) and torturing him. The video also depicts several weapons, the East Bay Times reported.
Hours after the student posted the video, a classmate told him it was “funny, but it was also racially or culturally insensitive,” said the First Amendment lawyer defending the student. He immediately removed it.
The 17-year-old was still elected class president—but the school district said initially punished him by saying he could no longer hold the position.
“This video makes repeated racist and insensitive references to Middle Eastern people, stereotyping them based on their dress, accents and language, names, manner of praying and religious dietary restrictions,” the school district said in a legal response.
The student’s parent moved to sue the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, hiring a First Amendment lawyer who said the punishment was “unconstitutional and extreme.”
A district spokeswoman said that after reviewing the video, they had determined that “it is not hate speech.” And though the court ruled in favor of San Ramon Valley Unified School District, the high school reversed its initial decision and allowed the student to assume his elected position.
That reinstatement outraged several students and community members. Almost 50 people showed up at the San Ramon Unified School District board meeting Tuesday to denounce the video as racist.
“I would argue that a video that makes repeated racist and insensitive references to Middle Eastern people meets all the criterions [sic] necessary to strip away constitutional protection in the context of a public school,” one student testified to the school board, according to video by Bay Area News Group.
Another student told the board that she feared the student would learn that “bigotry is acceptable.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.