At George Washington University, Holy Symbol Triggers Ban, But Hangman’s Noose OK At Duke

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 5,  2015):  A student at George Washington University was barred from campus, and is still facing permanent expulsion, for very briefly displaying on his  fraternity’s private bulletin board ate who posted it explained the mistake.

Yet a student at Duke who hung a hangman’s noose from a tree in the middle of campus – allegedly as a “joke”  – where it remained for some time will be allowed to remain on campus.

Although the Duke student claimed that as a foreigner he was unfamiliar with the noose and what it symbolized, this is hard to believe since a hangman’s noose in all countries and in all cultures symbolizes only death, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

In contrast, the symbol displayed at George Washington University is one which in India and many other countries, and for at least four major religions, symbolizes peace and love, and appears almost everywhere in India where the student acquired it, including even on the outside doors of Jewish temples.

The symbol briefly displayed at George Washington University, sometimes called a svastika, looks something like the hated Nazi swastika, but it is different in color, orientation, and proportions, whereas a hangman’s noose looks the same all around the world, notes Banzhaf.

George Washington University banned a a very sacred religious symbol

Since George Washington University has taken the position that the motive for displaying a svastika is irrelevant, and the student’s explanation that he brought it back from India on a recent trip in order to stimulate discussion with other members of his own largely Jewish fraternity (on whose private bulletin board it was lawfully posted very briefly) is unchallenged and backed up by many Jewish witnesses including his rabbi, the university’s action is tantamount to banning at George Washington University a very sacred religious symbol.  Thus, while Christian, Jewish, and other students are free to openly display their religious symbols, Hindus, Buddhists, and other students can do the same only at the risk of being banned and ultimately expelled, notes Banzhaf.

This constitutes a clear case of illegal religious discrimination, says Banzhaf, who has won more than 100 discrimination cases, including those based upon religion.  Moreover, he says, banning any innocent symbol because it could be mistaken for another symbol which bad is illogical, and in this case illegal, he says.

No rational university would ban a student from campus for displaying the six-pointed Jewish star, just because it could be mistaken for the 5-pointed pentagram which symbolizes human sacrifice. If any college dared to do so, it would immediately be charged with illegal religious discrimination, he contends.

George Washington University’s actions have been condemned by several dozen Indian media outlets, by many major religious organizations including the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington (IFC), and by major U.S. publications.

For example, Forbes said George Washington University’s actions “have a chilling effect on free expression,” and suggested that even alumni stop giving to it. Forbes also reported that “banning the Hindu svastika (the Hindu spelling) is one step away from banning the Star of David (or the Christian cross),” and “it is interesting that this banning received widespread attention in India, where some viewed it as an anti-Indian and anti-Hindu act.”


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)

2000 H Street, NW

Washington, DC 20052, USA

(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418 @profbanzhaf

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