April 1, 2016
The statement below is in response to concerns that have been expressed about a mural in the Department of Chicano/a Studies at California State University, Northridge.
As background, the mural was painted some years ago by Chicana/o Studies students to commemorate the department’s 30th anniversary. The mural’s depictions include people and events from CSUN’s history, and political issues of importance to the mural’s creators.
It is customary for academic departments within the university to use hallways and other wall spaces in their immediate areas for a variety of displays such as bulletin boards, paintings, posters, etc. The artwork represents the views of the students who created it and not the views of the university.
While we understand that the images and portrayal of the upside-down American flag is upsetting and a provocation to many people, it has been confirmed that the representation of the flag depicted in the mural is protected as free speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. A series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have upheld this protection, including Spence v. Washington, 418 U.S. 405 (1974), which involved a college student who displayed the American flag hanging upside down from his dorm room window, with a peace symbol attached to the flag. Other rulings by the Court, notably in 1989 and 1990, have consistently struck down state and Federal laws that were created to prohibit and prosecute acts or representations of flag desecration.
As a higher education institution, CSUN has a responsibility to accommodate a wide variety of views, and to be an educational and public forum for the expression of divergent views, including those that some may find distasteful or unpopular. The university is obligated to protect and tolerate the rights of members of the campus community to express their views freely, regardless of whether or not we agree with the views. Indeed, this principle serves as a foundation of our free society.
The university regrets any distress that the views expressed in the mural have caused.