WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 24, 2015): Since the George Washington University has effectively banned from its campus an ancient symbol which is considered holy by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Zoroastrians because it may look like the Nazi Swastika, should they not logically also ban the six-pointed Jewish star, wonders George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf, who has written about the legal implications of his university’s actions, including its possible legal liability for defamation and illegal religious discrimination.
He suggests that banning a 2500 year old symbol of life in at least four major Eastern religions because a student might mistake it for a Jewish swastika makes about as much sense as banning the word “niggardly” from campus because a student might mistake it for a racial slur word.
Student banished from George Washington University campus
When a Jewish student studying Eastern religious brought back from India a sacred symbol which somewhat resembles a Nazi swastika – although it is clearly different in color, orientation, and proportions – he was immediately banished from the campus, and is now in the process of being expelled.
This occurred even though the one student who saw the symbol and reported it to the university police as a Nazi swastika has now admitted that he acted in error and has withdrawn his complaint, and the police officer who investigated the reported sighting likewise concluded that no adverse action was warranted.
Indeed, the statement regarding his banishment announced a new George Washington University policy: “the act of posting it in a university residence hall is utterly unacceptable” because “the extremely harmful effects that displaying this symbol has on individuals and on the climate of our entire university community.” So it would appear – and this seems to be George Washington University’s position – that even if this sacred symbol is displayed for religious purposes by students who regard it as holy, these students likewise risk banishment and ultimate expulsion.
But if the justification for banning a religious symbol is that it might be mistaken for another symbol, then arguably George Washington University should consider banning the six-pointed Jewish Star of David because it could easily be mistaken for the five-pointed pentagram which is associated with the devil, says Banzhaf.
Indeed, there is precedent – although a bizarre one – for just such an action. Lubbock, Texas, did in fact ban the display by students of the Jewish Star of David because, they reasoned, it could be mistaken for the “`Seal Solomon,’ . . . one of the most powerful symbols in the Occult.” Using the same reasoning, they also banned the peace symbol because “This symbol represents peace in the early 60s, but now, among the Heavy Metal and Occult groups, signifies the “Cross of Neri.” However, these efforts were apparently greeted with ridicule, derision, and scorn – a fate which may well also befall George Washington University’s recent activities, suggests Banzhaf.
Ironically, the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington [IFC] has, with the active cooperation of the Jewish community, prepared materials which explain that this Eastern religious symbol is different from – and should not be confused with – the hated Nazi swastika, and strongly supporting the rights of students and others to display such symbols.
The IFC has also indicated its concern about these developments at George Washington University, using its Twitter account to explain the use of this “sacred symbol,” and to highlight Banzhaf’s legal analysis.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
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