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A fraternity’s letters are arguably their most important symbols. They define who they are and have meanings, both literal and symbolic, that only each organization’s respective members can understand.
Fraternities at James Madison University are not permitted to have houses on campus. As such, many of the chapters have secured large residences close by. For years, these houses had their letters and crests out in the open for anyone to see. Why shouldn’t they? I mean, it’s a free country, right? Apparently not.
The City of Harrisonburg, in which JMU is located, is cracking down on fraternities. They’re not increasing police enforcement, nor are they banning the sale of alcohol. They’re making it illegal to display fraternity letters and crests in plain view.
Actually, that’s kind of inaccurate. See, a law was passed in the ’80s that banned fraternities and sororities from conducting operations within the city limits unless they were on property owned by JMU. Not frat, Harrisonburg. Not frat at all.
In true fraternity fashion, nobody gave a shit. Chapters continued to conduct their business in off-campus houses, and like I said, nobody, including the local government, gave a shit. The law went unenforced and all was well.
Recently, though, somebody has apparently got a stick up their ass about the whole issue. According to Stacy Turner, Harrisonburg’s director of Planning and Community Development, concerned citizens have been contacting her department and complaining about fraternities and sororities in residential areas.
Turner said residents might not want fraternities or sororities to operate in Harrisonburg because of the activities associated with those groups.
“They might be operating on different time schedules than other residential properties, like activities occurring late at night — more noise perhaps,” she said. Secondly, the possibility that they will attract larger crowds of people than other residential houses might.”
According to Turner, organizations that refuse to take down letters and crests may face legal action. In some cases, the actual property owners may be charged with misdemeanors. So far, four chapters have been contacted and forced to take down their letters and crests.
I’m just a little confused here. The city is trying to say that a certain group of individuals can’t organize within the city and can’t display their symbols in public. What ever happened to things like free speech and equal protection under the law?
In all, this is incredibly stupid. These fraternities aren’t doing anything wrong. Sure, there are probably more than a handful of noise complaints, and I’m sure there may be trash littering the lawn on Sunday morning, but the pledges will clean it up eventually.
Kyle Thomas, a Sigma Chi alumnus summed it up best:
“People see us having a good old time on the front lawn and for whatever reason they might think it reflects badly on the community,” he said. “But to be honest with you, all those years I spent out there on the front lawn, every time someone drove by and we were wearing silly costumes, they would start laughing — it was funny. We weren’t hurting anybody.”
To the City of Harrisonburg, I’d just like to remind you of your state’s motto: Sic Semper Tyranis. Thus Always to Tyrants.
[via The Breeze]