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Satire magazine avoids censorship by student government

April 21, 2006

WISCONSIN -- Succumbing to pressure by student press advocates, the student government at a Wisconsin university said it would not attempt to limit the distribution of a campus satire magazine Wednesday.

The Student Association Senate at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse reversed a resolution it passed on March 29 limiting the number of copies The Second Supper Alternative News was allowed to distribute on campus. The publication normally distributes 2,000 copies; the resolution would have reduced the number to 60.

The resolution was in response to an article printed in the paper that parodied Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting fiasco where he accidentally shot one of his friends.

The sentence from the article that sparked outrage in the senate said, ''When he shot at some thought-to-be-bloods, he was actually shooting at individuals who Mr. Cheney referred to as 'his very best niggaz.'''

''People are sort of shocked by [the word 'nigga'] regardless of the context,'' said Joe Gullo, editor in chief of the paper. ''I don't think the solution was to limit us or reprimand us, the solution is discourse.''

The reversal was a victory for Gullo and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia that intervened on behalf of the paper.

''Initially the first resolution that was introduced in the student senate was one that would bar us from being a student organization,'' Gullo said. ''Then they came up with the resolution to limit our distribution.''

Gullo compromised with the senate to raise the limit from 60 to 900 at first because he feared that the low number would be detrimental to the paper's relationship with its advertisers, he said. Once dissenting senators informed him that the senate's actions were a violation of the First Amendment, he said he contacted FIRE.

FIRE wrote a letter to the university chancellor on April 13 asking him to reverse the resolution and cease the censorship of the paper. By Wednesday, the senate conceded and issued a statement saying: ''After much deliberation between people throughout the Student Association office, understanding the Federal Constitution, and accepting the fact that our position, even if upheld by Student Court, will not be upheld by the UW-System or State law, we... relinquish our legislation limiting distribution of the The Second Supper Alternative News across campus.''

Although the senate acknowledged that it could not censor the Supper, Student Senate President AJ Clauss said that the paper ''was making life difficult for a lot of students.''

''[The use of the term 'niggaz'] could be considered borderline hate speech,'' Clauss said. ''We had numerous students of color come in and complain, 'What is the student association going to do for us?' We feel diversity is extremely important on our campus.''

Clauss said that use of the word ''niggaz'' was offensive, even in a satirical context. She said the senate was looking to protect minority students with the failed resolution. She also said she does not see the Supper as a satirical paper.

The senate has no further plans to legislate against the Supper, Clauss said. But she said the Student Association is trying to put together forums to ''talk about what is hate speech and what is free speech.''

''Satire and parody are vital, effective, and very strongly protected forms of political speech. Unfortunately they are under constant attack on today's college campuses,'' FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in a statement. ''UW-L did the right thing by vindicating its students' rights to express themselves in these time-honored ways.''

The paper is already funded entirely by ads and has extended its offices off campus, Gullo said. The paper retains its student organization status because that status allows them to distribute the publication to a larger audience, he said.

''If we could fulfill that niche and keep that readership up without having to keep that tie on campus, that would be great,'' he said.

--by Ricky Ribeiro SPLC staff writer

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