Jason Antebi, Occidental College, and Free Speech

Jason Antebi can be offensive. There’s no way around it. When Antebi attended Occidental College, from 2000 to 2004, he ticked off many of his fellow students. Antebi was a conservative member of the Occidental Student Government and a Howard Stern-type disk jockey on the Occidental student station. His political opponents, in a failed effort to recall him from his student government position, called him a "racist" and "anti-Semite" (Antebi is Jewish); his door was defaced with the words "You’re a f—ing racist"; he was accused of "sexually harassing women."

Antebi registered complaints with the Occidental administration; the administration did nothing, telling him to deal with it on his own. So Antebi took to the airwaves to denounce two of his opponents in particular. He did so with his usual gusto, calling one of his opponents "Vander Douche" and another "Sam the Bearded Feminist." Of course, this was the M.O. of his show, which the administration of Occidental knew — participants in other aspects of the show included Occidental President Ted Mitchell, Occidental Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence and Greek Life Rameen Talesh, and Occidental Dean of Admission Vince Cuseo.

The blowback was swift and harsh. The insulted students promptly filed sexual harassment charges through Occidental against Antebi. He was unceremoniously fired from his disk jockey position, and the Student Government as a whole was dissolved. Mitchell sent out an e-mail demeaning Antebi. The Occidental General Counsel screamed slurs at Antebi in a hallway. Then the "impartial" Occidental administration found Antebi guilty of sexual harassment and ordered him to apologize and undergo psychiatric counseling.

Antebi refused to accept the punishment and sued under California’s Leonard Law, which reads in relevant part, "(a) No private postsecondary educational institution shall make or enforce any rule subjecting any student to disciplinary sanctions solely on the basis of conduct that is speech or other communication that, when engaged in outside the campus or facility of a private postsecondary institution, is protected from governmental restriction by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or Section 2 of Article 1 of the California Constitution." Antebi’s situation was satire and, therefore, legally protected under the First Amendment.

Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals determined that Antebi had no standing to file his suit. Their basis? One provision of the Leonard Law reads, "Any student enrolled in a private postsecondary institution that has made or enforced any rule in violation of subdivision (a) may commence a civil action to obtain appropriate injunctive and declaratory relief as determined by the court." This provision, the court concluded, means that a student must be enrolled at the college he is suing at the time of the lawsuit in order to sue. Antebi graduated shortly before he filed his lawsuit; therefore he could not file his lawsuit.

This interpretation renders the Leonard Law meaningless. Under this interpretation, if a college wishes to avoid a lawsuit from a complaining student, they simply expel the student. The student is no longer "enrolled" at the college, and any violation of his First Amendment rights must be overlooked by the courts. If a student is expelled for stating that homosexuality is a sin, he has no recourse; if a student is expelled for stating that he opposes the war in Iraq, he has no recourse.

Antebi is now appealing his case to the California Supreme Court. His allies include the ACLU and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Is Antebi often offensive? Yes. Have his rights been violated? Yes. As long as colleges quash free speech they find disadvantageous, colleges will never be institutions of higher learning. The same people who quashed Antebi routinely quash diversity of thought.