A Cal State Northridge fraternity has sued school officials, contending the university violated the First Amendment by suspending the fraternity for distributing a party flyer that critics said was racist and sexist.
CSUN officials in November suspended the campus chapter of Zeta Beta Tau for 14 months because of a flyer advertising an October party to honor, among others, "Lupe." Latino student groups said "Lupe" is the name of a fictional "Mexican whore" described in a vulgar lyric borrowed from a UCLA fraternity songbook.
The ZBT suspension bars the fraternity from participating in any campus activities, including the recruitment of new members next fall.
The lawsuit, which was filed earlier this month in San Fernando Superior Court, said the fraternity is being punished for "expressing its right of free speech and free expression."
A hearing is scheduled for April 2.
"This is a First Amendment case; we can't lose," said Scott Krivis, a ZBT spokesman and local businessman.
Jeffrey Berns, attorney for ZBT, was not available for comment.
CSUN President Blenda J. Wilson said Wednesday that suspending ZBT was proper, because the fraternity had agreed to abide by campus rules prohibiting racially offensive behavior. "I believe what we did was right," she said.
But Wilson added that she would have to decide whether to go forward in defending against the potentially expensive lawsuit on the basis of advice from Cal State University attorneys.
In a similar case in Virginia in 1991, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Sigma Chi fraternity at Harvey Mason University, which had been suspended for staging an "Ugly Woman" contest, on the grounds that its First Amendment rights had been violated.
U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton said in the ruling: "One of the fundamental rights secured by the First Amendment is that of free, uncensored expression, even in matters that some may think are trivial, vulgar or profane. Because that fundamental right extends to students at a state university, a state university may not hinder the exercise of First Amendment rights simply because it feels that exposure to a given group's ideas may be somehow harmful to certain students."