- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2016

The University of North Dakota announced Wednesday that its commitment to free speech led to its decision to pardon several students involved in two racially charged Snapchat photos that made national news last month.

“After a full review of the information, the Code of Student Life, and the laws pertaining to each incident, and after consulting with General Council, [the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities] has concluded that neither incident constitutes a violation of the UND Code of Student Life,” the school wrote in a statement. “The conclusion was driven by the Constitutional protection of free speech.”

The two Snapchat incidents occurred within days of each other in late September. The first of the two photos showed two women and a man wearing UND apparel in what appears to be a dorm and the caption: “Locked the black b— out.” The second showed four people posing in blackface with the caption “Black Lives matter.”

University police considered criminal charges for the first photo, but the case was dropped by the complainant, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

“As part of the conversation with student leaders, we talked about the concept of Zero Tolerance,” UND President Mark Kennedy said in a statement. “While I appreciate the desire for such a policy, it is unachievable under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The challenge we all face is to find the balance between wanting to eliminate expressions of racism and bigotry and supporting the free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. If we value freedom of speech, we must acknowledge that some may find the expressions of others unwelcome, painful, or even, offensive. We can, however, speak out and condemn such expressions, and we can work to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment.”

Mr. Kennedy said he did “condemn the thoughtlessness” of the students involved and continued to be “appalled” that the photos were “conceived and disseminated.”

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