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updated 10/11/2007 8:59:58 PM ET 2007-10-12T00:59:58

A Regent University law student says school officials have threatened to discipline him for posting an unflattering photo of founder Pat Robertson on his Facebook page.

Adam M. Key, 23, posted a picture of Regent's founder and president making what appears to be an obscene gesture on the social-networking Web site. Key copied it from a YouTube video in which Robertson scratches his face with his middle finger.

The second-year law student said officials at the private Christian university in Virginia Beach demanded that he either publicly apologize and withhold public comment about the matter, or submit to the law school dean a legal brief defending the posting. Key chose the latter, arguing that his posting was satire protected under the First Amendment.

"I believe they're wrong from a legal standpoint," the Houston native said in a telephone interview Thursday. "But also, it's important in the Christian faith to be able to criticize our leaders."

According to Key, dean Jeffrey Brauch rejected his written legal brief and he now faces disciplinary action — perhaps even expulsion — under the university's Standards of Personal Conduct.

"I will pay any price to defend free expression — especially against anyone who wants to take it away in the name of God," Key said.

A Regent spokeswoman told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper that she could not comment because of privacy laws. University spokeswoman Sherri Stocks did not return phone messages left Thursday by The Associated Press.

Robert M. O'Neil, director of the University of Virginia's Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, said Regent probably has a legal right to discipline Key because private institutions are not constrained by the First Amendment.

However, O'Neil said disciplinary action might not be in Regent's best interests because most private universities "pride themselves on making a voluntary commitment" to free speech rights, even if they are not legally bound to do so.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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