Updated Thursday afternoon to include comments from Long Island University Post.

Should holding an unloaded gun at an off-campus event lead to questioning from college administrators?

This seems like an absurd question, but based on a report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, that’s exactly what happened to Anand Venigalla, a student at Long Island University Post, a small liberal arts college close to New York City.

Venigalla, a junior, attended an event hosted by the popular sporting goods store, Cabela’s. That event was off-campus and unaffiliated with the university or his studies. After attending, he posted photos and videos of himself holding various firearms to his personal Facebook. All of the images are either of him clearly in the store or holding antique weapons under the supervision of an instructor.

Even for gun control activists, that’s pretty inoffensive.

Long Island University Post, however, didn’t see it like that. Instead, university spokesmen Gordon L. Tepper told the Washington Examiner that the school acted on concerns from another student. That promoted administrators to call Venigalla in to answer questions about his Facebook post.

In that request, or really demand, for a meeting the university said that it was “imperative” they meet as soon as possible and said that the meeting was mandatory — even though it was summer break.

Later, LIU Post told The Washington Examiner that the meeting involved "no disciplinary investigation or action." That’s a hard claim to back up seeing that pretty much anyone receiving serious summons from university administrators for a “mandatory meeting” over summer break would be interpreted as some sort of investigation or punishment.

In any case, Venigalla felt compelled to attend. When he did, he was berated not only for the Facebook post but also for an essay that he wrote for a class where he cited the Boston Tea Party as a justifiable use of violence against authorities.

The university has since dropped its investigation but has yet to acknowledge that mandatory administrative meetings for social media posts of perfectly legal activity chill free expression. FIRE is calling on them to do so.

As FIRE Senior Program Officer Sarah McLaughlin explained in a statement: “By calling in a student for a mandatory meeting about photos of his participation in a recreational gun event, Long Island University has sent a message to its entire student body: Watch what you say.” She added, “Universities that promise to protect free speech should not hold mandatory meetings for students who engage in it.”

FIRE and McLaughlin are right.

U.S. higher education and its commitment to free speech is fundamental to protecting critical thinking, democracy, and the ability of students to engage with ideas they disagree with. Critically, those protections must also extend to protecting campus environments from administrative overreach that chills free speech.

For its part, LIU defended its actions saying, "LIU takes very seriously its obligation to protect the safety of our campus community." It's all well and good to protect campus safety, but mandatory meetings based on innocuous Facebook posts of constitutionally protected activity doesn't do that. In fact, all that does is tell students that even legal behavior is subject to the feelings of the classmates and that controversial speech, including Facebook images, are unwelcome.

Although LIU Post is a private university, and therefore not bound by the First Amendment as public universities are, FIRE rightly points out that it has made a commitment to upholding student’s rights. The university must honor that commitment and may even be legally bound to do so based on some readings of contract law.

More importantly, if universities, public or private, teach their students that free speech only extends as far as administrators deem appropriate, that fails to prepare students to be active participants in a free, democratic society.