FIRE Joins Open Letter to Yale Protesting Censorship of Mohammed Cartoons

September 17, 2009

Earlier this week, FIRE joined a dynamic coalition of civil liberties groups in signing an open letter protesting the removal of cartoons depicting Mohammed from author Jytte Klausen’s forthcoming book, The Cartoons That Shook the World, to be published by Yale University Press this October. The letter, authored by Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and sent to Yale President Richard C. Levin and members of the Yale Corporation, labels the removal of the cartoons "a dangerous precedent that threatens academic and intellectual freedom around the world."

In addition to FIRE and the NCAC, the letter was signed by eleven other national organizations: the American Association of University Professors, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, the American Society of Journalists and Authors First Amendment Committee, the First Amendment Committee, the College Art Association, the Freedom to Read Foundation, the First Amendment Project, the First Amendment Lawyers Association, and the Middle East Studies Association.

The powerful letter echoes several points made by FIRE’s Robert Shibley in the wake of the controversy last month—namely, that removing the images means surrendering without contest to those who would threaten violence, and that the integrity of the university and press have been badly compromised by the decision. The letter states in part:

The University’s role in that decision compromises the principle and practice of academic freedom, undermines the independence of the Press, damages the University’s credibility, and diminishes its reputation for scholarship. 

The events surrounding the decision to remove the images are deeply troubling ….

We recognize that there are people who will threaten violence to suppress ideas that they hate.  They range from religious zealots seeking to ban images they consider blasphemous to animal rights advocates who recently threatened the staff of the San Francisco Art Institute over an art installation that they claimed represented cruelty to animals.  However, even in the face of actual threats, we believe that there are ways for institutions like Yale to preserve their commitment to academic freedom and intellectual integrity. 

Giving in to the fear of violence only emboldens those who use threats to achieve their ends.

FIRE is proud to have joined this important and eloquent letter, which has already garnered coverage from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Schools:  Yale University

Cases:  Topic: Campuses Attempt to Censor Publication of Depictions of Mohammed