Howard University yesterday forbade a student group called Unity Nation to stage a campus rally that was to feature prominent Nation of Islam member Khalid Abdul Muhammad as a speaker.
Joyce A. Ladner, Howard's interim president, said in a statement that the university canceled the rally because it would have created "inordinate security demands" and because Howard is restricting student groups, with few exceptions, from using its facilities until it creates new rules for holding events.
Muhammad, a former top aide to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, has been widely condemned for repeatedly making harshly bigoted speeches against Jews and other groups. In June, Muhammad, who speaks regularly to black student groups, was shot in the leg after speaking at the University of California at Riverside.
His recurring appearances at Howard, all at the behest of Unity Nation, have sparked turmoil on the campus for months. Before a Muhammad speech there last February, Unity Nation's founder, a Howard law student who identifies himself as Malik Zulu Shabazz, led hundreds of audience members in taunts against Jews.
Afterward, Howard's faculty and students began debating the limits of free speech on campus and the extent to which Unity Nation and Muhammad should be challenged -- or even stopped.
Yesterday, Shabazz and Muhammad held a brief protest of the university's decision outside Crampton Auditorium. Shabazz accused Howard of quashing his group's constitutional right to free speech.
"Our views have been deemed too controversial," he told a few dozen students who had gathered to watch. "Freedom of speech on Howard University's campus is nothing but a hypocrisy."
Shabazz then blamed the "wicked, no-good" Anti-Defamation League for pressuring Howard to block the lunchtime rally. "We will never bow down to the white, Jewish, Zionist onslaught," he said to a smattering of cheers.
But several students aggressively questioned Shabazz about what Unity Nation does with money it raises from rallies. Muhammad stood silently by and did not address the small crowd.
Later, Howard officials denied that the university had been pressured by any group to block the rally and said the decision was not an attempt to single out Unity Nation for attack.
"Howard is totally committed to the principle of free speech," said Alan Hermesch, a university spokesman. "This is in no way directed at any person, organization or content of a speech."
Ladner, in the statement, said she believed that freedom of speech and expression on campus had "in no way been abridged" by the action.
Hermesch said it has not deter mined how long the moratorium on student groups using campus facilities will last. He said exceptions have been made while Howard leaders draw up new guidelines, but could not say how many exceptions.
Ladner's statement said that, "Unity Nation had failed in the past to comply with the use of university facilities." Hermesch said that he could not elaborate on that remark.