The Oklahoma University chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which was shut down and had some members expelled following revelations they led a racist chant that celebrated lynching, has just hired high-profile attorney Stephen Jones to look into whether they can sue the university or its president.
Jones, who is best known for representing Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, told the local NBC channel that he’s “outraged” OU President David Boren shut down the fraternity house and “brand[ed] all SAE members as racists and bigots.”
According to news anchor Abby Broyles, Jones told her the chanting students merely “lacked judgement in a social setting” and “should not be tarred and feathered as racists.”
But Jones is mistaken. It was the national SAE organization that shut the OU chapter down.
“Sigma Alpha Epsilon did not hesitate to close the chapter completely because of the culture that may have been fostered in the group,” national SAE leaders said in a statement this week. “At the same time, the headquarters has learned of the expulsion of two chapter members from the university, which we support…We believe that these men must be held responsible for their actions.”
Questions remain, however, concerning the free speech rights rights of the expelled individuals. Some legal experts argue that even hateful, racist speech is protected by the First Amendment at a tax-payer funded public university, and since the chant in question was not a direct threat towards someone, it should fall under those protections.
But other federal laws, including Title IX and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, require universities to ensure that no student or group of students is subject to harassment or discrimination that would impede their ability to get an equal education. President Boren’s statement on the expulsion echoed this idea, saying the racist chant “created a hostile educational environment for others.”
SAE’s attorney Jones said he will begin looking over his legal options on Friday.