Robert Havay, who served 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, sent a letter of complaint to Fresno State President Joseph Castro expressing his concerns about the Oct. 5 and 6 event held by the Muslim Student Association.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the First Amendment requires public school officials to be neutral in their treatment of religion, showing neither favoritism toward nor hostility against religious expression,” Havay wrote in the letter which was also sent to The Bee.
On Thursday, Havay said the event promoted Islam and what really bothered him was the promise some professors made to give extra credit to students.
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“When they gave extra credit, they crossed the line,” he said.
My issue is when somebody comes here and wants to change the Constitution, wants to convert us to their ideas and shuts down all other speech.
Robert Havay, retired U.S. Marine
“I have no problem with some group coming to this country jumping through the hoops legally and assimilating,” Havay said. “My issue is when somebody comes here and wants to change the Constitution, wants to convert us to their ideas and shuts down all other speech.”
The Hijab Challenge has been held on college campuses nationwide to offer non-Muslim students a taste of what it’s like to wear a head scarf during a time of anti-Islam sentiment.
Fresno State’s Muslim Student Association handed out free scarves and wrapped them for non-Muslim students in the Free Speech Area, across from the Henry Madden Library. They also offered caps, called kufis, for men.
The school does not officially refer to the spot as the Free Speech Area anymore “as it indicates that it is the only place on campus where free speech is allowed. Free speech is allowed on campus,” said Francine Oputa, director of the Cross Cultural and Gender Center at Fresno State. Groups or individuals who want to use the space for an organized activity have to get permission from Student Activities and Leadership Development.
Fresno State, as a public university, is a place where faculty and students have the right to exercise freedom of speech.
Fresno State President Joseph Castro
Castro assured Havay in a letter of response that students were “not coerced to participate in the wearing of the hijab or penalized for not doing so.”
“Fresno State, as a public university, is a place where faculty and students have the right to exercise freedom of speech,” Castro wrote. “We value the diversity of thought and active practice of inclusion to build awareness, enrich knowledge and facilitate critical-thinking.”
“It is through activities such as these that students, as well as staff, faculty and administrators, can broaden and deepen their learning and engage with each other and members of the community to grow in their appreciation of cultures other than their own.”