A student at Virginia Tech has been banned from athletic events for booing what he considered a flagrantly incorrect call during a soccer match.
And now the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is fighting the school action because his comments were protected by the First Amendment.
A report from The Fire explained it is Sean Lohr, a student, who is being subjected to what it charged is an unconstitutional penalty.
“The Virginia Tech administration was completely out of line,” Lohr explained, “It is out of line for everyone’s voices to be suppressed because one person was offended by something.”
The FIRE report said Lohr is a member of the “Shirtless Boys,” a coalition of students who cheer on Virginia Tech’s women’s soccer team.
The group has been praised by the soccer coach for having a “tremendous influence” on the club by “increasing the atmosphere and the passion within the fan base.”
However, Reyna Gilbert-Lowry, a school athletics official, repeatedly has ordered members to “tone it down” while cheering.
The pending dispute was created at a match on Sept. 26 when, “in response to a foul call,” “many fans booed and shouted at the referee.”
Lohr joined in.
Gilbert-Lowry told the students to be quiet and when Lohr asked what she meant, she ordered campus security to remove them.
Lohr’s response was to call her a “glorified PE teacher” and she responded the next day with a complaint that Lohr showed her a “level of disrespect.”
She also banned Lohr from all women’s soccer home games and ordered a disciplinary complaint to be created against the student, a move that resulted in school orders that Lohr “have no contact with Gilbert-Lowry.”
He’s also facing the threat of suspension by the school.
“Virginia Tech punished Lohr for supporting his home team because one single administrator was offended,” noted FIRE Senior Program Officer Zach Greenberg. “If booing a referee is disorderly conduct, there would be no fans left to cheer on Virginia Tech’s student-athletes”
The organization noted as a public school, Virginia Tech must abide by the Constitution, including the First Amendment rights of students for their speech.
“Virginia Tech’s deferred suspension of Lohr contradicts this obligation, as cheering for a sports team is protected expression. While a university can address disorderly conduct, expression can only be punished as ‘disorderly’ when there is a showing of material and substantial disruption. This determination requires more than merely offending an administrator or a referee,” The FIRE report said.
“It’s not only unsportsmanlike to trample students’ rights, it’s illegal,” said Greenberg. “FIRE urges Virginia Tech to clear Lohr’s record and commit to upholding students’ First Amendment rights.”
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