Campus Free Speech

It's Not 'Bullying' To Satirize a Student Organization

When a college sophomore mocked Young Americans for Freedom for its stance on trans athletes, the conservative group ran to the university to file a complaint.

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When the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter at the Catholic University of America (CUA) debated the participation of transgender athletes in women's sports, sophomore Rory O'Connor leaned into the conversation by posting a barrage of critical memes on social media. 

To his surprise, the satirical posts prompted the university to investigate him for "disorderly conduct."

It all started on March 23 when the school's YAF chapter posted an image of controversial transgender swimmer Lia Thomas to its Instagram account. The caption read, "Change my mind: Save women's sports," inviting critics to stop by the Pryzbyla University Center to debate the issue.

O'Connor only became aware of the event after it had ended, so the next day he took to his Instagram story to passionately express his disagreement with YAF. He launched into a self-described "cyberbullying" campaign against the club consisting of 19 Instagram stories, most of which were popular memes he edited to respond to perceived transphobia on the part of YAF.

In one post, which would eventually become the focal point of the controversy, O'Connor posted a viral meme from the children's cartoon Arthur which depicts a character holding a baseball bat. He edited the original caption to read "My terms to stop cyber billing [sic] the shit out of @catholicuyaf are simple: Do you wanna keep your post or do you wanna keep your kneecaps?"

In another, he made his opinion on transgender athletes clear: "If you preach love for *all* of God's children, you better mean all of them—trans and LGBTQ+ people included. And don't bother anyone with the pseudo-righteous indignation over some memes, for fuck's sake. Try to give a shit about the lives and experiences of trans people who are hated for nothing but expressing themselves and living in the truth."

"My intention in making the posts was to criticize and satirize the Catholic U YAF for, what I believe at least, was a blatantly exclusionary and disrespectful event," O'Connor tells Reason. "I meant this in good humor." But not everyone saw it as a joke.

Representatives from the YAF chapter filed a complaint to the university, writing to administrators about "a variety of Instagram stories all tagging @catholicuyaf, each of which are misrepresentative of our views, our tabling, and us as individuals." The complaint alleged harassment, asserting, "A Catholic University student should never threaten, harass, or bully other people including other CUA students."

In response, the university launched an investigation into O'Connor. In a March 29 letter, administrators notified him of charges of violating the student code of conduct and engaging in "disorderly conduct" due to allegations that he "threatened representatives of Young Americans for Freedom with bodily harm via [his] Instagram post." He was then summoned to a student conduct conference—potentially facing suspension or expulsion, according to school policy.

That's when the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) stepped in.

Sabrina Conza, program officer of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, wrote to Catholic University on April 1, demanding the termination of the investigation. Conza argues that while the Instagram stories were potentially offensive to members and allies of YAF, they are clearly satirical in nature and therefore constitute protected speech.

According to Conza, the memes do not rise to the level of a genuine threat, and, therefore, punishment would violate the university's guarantee of free speech for students—not to mention its "no cancellation" policy. Although Catholic University is a private institution and therefore not bound by the First Amendment, its institutional commitment to protecting open expression means it is contractually obligated to uphold promises made to students. Furthermore, the letter argues the investigation would run the risk of chilling speech around contentious issues on campus.

"O'Connor's post uses a well-known meme to criticize YAF's views on transgender athletes, a topic on which YAF specifically called on students to engage," Conza tells Reason. "Now that we've let the university in on the joke, it must immediately end its investigation and reaffirm its commitment to free speech."

Catholic University did not respond to a request for comment, but it appears FIRE's pressure paid off.

At a hearing on Monday, O'Connor was deemed not responsible for the alleged disorderly conduct after YAF members acknowledged that they did not feel physically threatened by the posts. In the end, the Office of Student Conduct & Ethical Development acknowledged O'Connor's intent was satirical and not genuinely menacing.

O'Connor says he feels "vindicated" by the result. "I'm grateful for the immense help of FIRE," he says. "This could have ended a lot differently."

Ultimately, no matter who you side with on the issue of transgender athletes and regardless of whether YAF members were right to be offended, the onus is on administrators to respond appropriately and proportionately. After some pressure from FIRE, Catholic University came out on the side of free speech.

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  1. You idiots just keep clowning yourselves, over and over again.

    1. All I hear is "Quit satirizing yourself! Quit satirizing yourself!"

  2. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the original complaint was explicitly intended to give the guy a taste of his own medicine.

    If the woke are using the bureaucracy to shut down the unwoke, it's perfectly cromulent for the woke to get a taste of their own medicine. Karma is its own reward.

    1. "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the original complaint was explicitly intended to give the guy a taste of his own medicine"

      That's exactly what it was. This article is utterly dishonest. The actual problem was campus lefties using frivolous complaints as political weapons, so the YAF did turnaround as fair play.

      This writer has a history here of writing dishonest articles for woke causes.
      https://reason.com/people/rikki-schlott/

      1. Bullshit. It was snowflake MAGA morons doing what they complain about.

      2. Reason managed to withhold outrage until a conservatives dared to stand up for themselves. How expected.

    2. A lot of words to say "I have no principles, but I expect you to."

      1. I will quote you for the rest of my life, good sir

      2. Yep, that totally describes you Tony. Well said!

  3. Wow, it's true. The Left *really* can't meme. At all.

    1. My first thought. That is some shit satire.

      1. Is that what is was supposed to be.
        Lame.

    2. You can say that again. They didn't even bother putting a transparent background for the text they put on that blimp in the first picture. What is this, amateur hour?

    3. The biggest surprise is that YAF read the entire meme
      in one sitting before finally giving up and going to bed

  4. Oh go fuck yourself. Hoist those lefty shits upon their own petards.

    1. I take that back.

      [O'Connor] launched into a self-described "cyberbullying" campaign against the club[.]

      Quadruply go fuck yourself.

      "I'm gonna start a harassment campaign against these guys!"

      "Hey! Why are these guys accusing me of harassment?!"

      1. "It was a satirical threat to break their kneecaps with a baseball bat if they didn't alter their positions to match mine!"

        1. "I told you, I stabbed him SARCASTICALLY"

          1. Does bleeding count as speech?

            1. Only if you're a menstruating person.

              1. If it ends with a period, it’s speech. To the max!

          2. It was a prank, bro!

      2. Well, he actually spelled it "cyber billing" (which you don't know unless you looked elsewhere for the story because, bizarrely, here they showed several of the memes but not the most controversial one.) Maybe he just wanted payment.

  5. "When a college sophomore mocked Young Americans for Freedom for its stance on trans athletes, the conservative group ran to the university to file a complaint."

    Good for them. Screw the high road, use the enemy's own playbook against them.

    1. Witness how quickly principles become irrelevant when the tribe member feels his tribe is threatened.

      Now, watch him fling poo.

      1. You remind me of a couple guys I came across in an alley the other night.

        These guys were punching, kicking, biting, and swearing at each other like a couple of animals.

        When I arrived on the scene, the mugger ran off down the alley leaving me alone with a guy triumphantly clutching his own wallet.

        Just like you, I really gave the victim a piece of my mind for not adhering to his principles of peaceful interaction with his fellow citizens.

        What a hypocrite he was for punching back!

        1. Tony's hypocrisy incarnate so he probably won't catch the facetious spirit of your reply.

        2. So as long as you can convince yourself that someone, somewhere is making a law you don't like, you can give yourself permission to have no principles whatsoever?

          You don't need to explain fascism to me, buttercup.

          1. Tony, you and your friends are essentially a cancerous tumor consuming a healthy host. So tell me, what principles am I obligated to adhere to in eradicating you and your fellow travelers? As the alternative is death.

      2. He learned it from you!

  6. My self-described cyberbullying campaign has only one question; "When is FIRE going to stop defending Lia Thomas for physically beating women?"

    1. My Lia Thomas question is a little different -- once swimming is over and he goes back to being a man, is he still stunning and brave?

      1. No, he is still delusional.

      2. Lia Thomas will always be stunning and brave, even if she doesn't exist anymore. William Thomas will just be regarded as some unrelated guy.

  7. Put of the thousands of times this has happened on campus... you chose this one for what reason?

    1. So they can link back to it in the future as 'proof' that right-wing students are the real problem.

    2. Because they're mendacious cunts.

    3. Hey, it's Reason. Got to have their standard deviation.

  8. You faggots really hate having your typical behavior turned around on you

    1. Amd Tony is the most faggoty faggot in Faggotville. I base this on his incessant faggotry,

  9. "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules."

  10. I can't help but wonder if the University will dismiss this claim, forever imperiling all future claims of victimhood. A conundrum indeed.

  11. Groomers mad

    https://twitter.com/KenDilanianNBC/status/1512494571585949699?t=AFHznqxebWUmKCWiwYiyuw&s=19

    Huge blow to the FBI: Zero guilty verdicts in the case of the alleged plot to kidnap Michigan governor. Not guilty verdict for three, hung jury on the alleged ringleader, per @PeteWilliamsNBC

    1. Groomers were dealt setbacks in Florida of late too.

  12. https://twitter.com/UKR_Report/status/1512300194934759425?t=qh6ASRQB-d3r9exNBC7lQw&s=19

    ALL MEN WHO LEFT UKRAINE AFTER FEBRUARY 24 WILL BE DETAINED UPON THEIR RETURN TO THE COUNTRY.

    -SECRETARY OF THE SECURITY AND DEFENSE COUNCIL OLEKSIY DANILOV

    1. K.

    2. Now that is the way a government looks out for its soldiers. No more sausage-fest at the night clubs near the bases.

  13. Do they have biologists on staff to determine which of them are men?

    1. Even Supreme Court justices are baffled by genitalia.

  14. According to Conza, the memes do not rise to the level of a genuine threat

    ***huffily***

    And she calls herself a young person!

  15. Rules are good as long as everyone plays by the same rules.

    If only one side gets to punch below the belt.....well no, either that stops or I get to do it too.

    1. Precisely. Let them eat their new standard of "violence"

    2. Yes, if you rape my neighbor, I get to rape your neighbor. If Arabs destroy the World Trade Center, Americans can blow up the Burj Kalifa. Iceberg, Goldberg, what’s the difference?

      Rules should only exist until one side accuses another of violating them.

  16. Wait, a private institution may have contractual obligations to its users not to punish them out of hand for controversial and arbitrarily perceived violations of their terms of service? What madness is this?

  17. Either allowing biological males to play in women's sports divisions does not make sense, or having separate women's sports divisions does not make sense. To invoke the pejorative accusation of "transphobia" is not helpful to the debate.

    1. Left wing fascism teaches us that it's not necessary to debate opposing viewpoints, we only need to label them

    2. Either allowing biological males to play in women's sports divisions does not make sense, or having separate women's sports divisions does not make sense. To invoke the pejorative accusation of "transphobia" is not helpful to the debate.

      That works with a lot of things:

      • Either allowing two guys to "marry" each other makes sense, or it doesn't. To invoke the pejorative accusation of "homophobia" is not helpful to the debate.
      • Either allowing Muslims to immigrate to the U.S. makes sense, or it doesn't. To invoke the pejorative accusation of "Islamophobia" is not helpful to the debate.
      • Either enforcing our southern border makes sense, or it doesn't. To invoke the pejorative accusation of "Hispanophobia" is not helpful to the debate.
      • Either enforcing criminal laws makes sense, or it doesn't. To invoke the pejorative accusation of "racism" is not helpful to the debate.

      Now, if you hate the U.S., and want to see it destroyed, you push "gay marriage," Muslim immigration, open borders, non-enforcement of criminal laws. And you call those who object "haters"!

  18. 2022: The rise of the fragile conservative.

      1. It didn't work though. One might even say it backfired.

        1. Actually, it worked perfectly you dumbass. It brought attention to a fragile Lefty and mocked the silly university rules.

          Do you really think that they thought the twerp would be punished for being PC?

          1. Tony is a one dimensional thinker.

        2. So per my comment above, it looks like the University may have pickled itself.

    1. False; it's the rise of the realist conservative who understands that the only way to oppose leftism is to let them experience the consequences of their new definitions of "violence" and "aggression"

    2. Turnabout is fair play, Brandy.
      But they forced the university to say that mockery isn't bullying, which is a loss for lefties like you and Tony, but a win for conservatives.

  19. Anyone, anyone a all --be it a child on a playground, or an adult on the street-- who considers "bullying" to be anything but physical, honestly needs to get beaten up randomly without provocation on a regular basis, and to confront the choice of tolerating it, or of retaliating and being considered the aggressor.

    1. *at all

    2. And you're just going to ignore the rampant, systemic transmechanophobia that treats cyberbullying differently than regular bullying aren't you? Bigot.

      1. Well, you're then making an argument that the internet is the town square. Otherwise, the argument against your point is that the cyberbullied person could just go elsewhere.

  20. Progressive students will grow up to make better memes. Conservative students stay assholes forever.

    1. They don't practice loosening up their sphincter like you do.

    2. I've never heard of an actually funny prog. The "memes" in the article are proof that lefties can't meme.

      1. To the prog left nothing is funny because somewhere, somehow, someone feels bad about what is meant to be funny.

        They have no sense of humor, only outrage.

      2. It's an interesting thing because normal people say the same about conservatives.

        But maybe what's happening is that conservatives are so fucking stupid that they actually think punching down on minorities is the funniest thing in the world. You can't say that kind of thing isn't present in the ape world. Ape humor has very little sophistication. Almost no appreciation for actual irony.

        1. So, no comment about the kneecaps? Thought so.

    3. I imagine one could drive a freight train up yours.

  21. Again, the crime is not being funny.

  22. Rikki Schlott has identified the big danger to liberty on American college campuses: Conservative organizations using a compliant university administration to silence their political foes.

    Well done, Ms. Schlott, only a very keen eye could see the real problem here.

    Another coup for Reason's defense of free speech.

    1. Chuckle

  23. Once the lefty fascists have set the standard that words=violence it's entirely legitimate to use their own verbal weapons against them. Don't like it? Return to a libertarian definition of "free speech", hard stop.

    1. Once the lefty fascists have set the standard that words=violence it's entirely legitimate to use their own verbal weapons against them.

      Exactly.
      Karma at work here.

  24. So now a deranged person threatening to break your knee caps is "satire"?

    This is exactly the type of speech that should be reported to authorities.

    Not an example of "both sides" cracking down on free speech, or Republicans pouncing.

    1. Pro tip:

      Showing a meme of the Hindenberg blowing up could be satire. Young Americans for Freedom probably don't fly around in a zeppelin.

      Threatening to break people's kneecaps with a baseball bat = not satire. It's a credible threat with specific actions and consequences.

      1. I was kinda wondering which union they were in - - - - - -

  25. The post may have been satire, but a student referenced breaking the kneecaps of another student, right? FIRE is mad at the university for even *investigating* the complaint?

    I mean... the university got the complaint on March 27 and contacted the student on March 29, and by April 1 FIRE is already sending a letter demanding they stop investigating?

    Also:

    Although Catholic University is a private institution and therefore not bound by the First Amendment, its institutional commitment to protecting open expression means it is contractually obligated to uphold promises made to students.

    But if you actually read what's in that link (emphasis mine):

    The Catholic University of America values and defends the right of free speech and the freedom of members of the University community to express themselves on University property, provided that such expression does not violate the law or applicable University policies.

    In other words, university policy trumps free speech, not the other way around. FIRE is simply wrong when it asserts that this grants all the protections they'd have at a public university.

    1. You could be correct, but vaguely citing "university policy" as trumping 1A without citing exactly what applicable university policy was violated does not seal the deal. For example, there might be a university policy prohibiting threats of physical violence (seems reasonable to me to prohibit such) but without seeing the policy it is not possible to judge.

  26. I don't like your opinions, Rikki. So you can keep your article or your kneecaps.

  27. But satirizing faggots is bullying?

  28. "My terms to stop cyber billing [sic] the shit out of @catholicuyaf are simple: Do you wanna keep your post or do you wanna keep your kneecaps?"

    I can see how that would be seen as a threat. Not to me because leftists tend to be all bark and no bite. So, am I to assume the university will response the same way when a conservative group uses the same language against a leftist? Yeah, no.

  29. It is very difficult to have any sympathy for what is laughably called the "Left" these days because they have spent decades trashing the First Amendment:
    * Speech codes
    * Shouting down speakers
    * De-platforming dissidents online
    * Denying rightist groups equal access to campus facilities
    * Censoring non-conforming opinion from campus newspapers

    So when a conservative organization fights back...karma, dudes, karma.
    The Left started the war, the Right is gonna finish it.

    1. If the left are all expatriated, or in landfills, then there will be no more leftist authoritarianism.

    2. Nah. You just didn't call them speech codes when you systematically excluded blacks and gays from having a voice in society. You called it family values.

  30. The kneecap comment is a threat. Not that any of these pajama soyboys would every do anything without their mob to protect them. Still, a physical threat.

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