This afternoon, FIRE sent a letter to University of Colorado at Boulder Interim Chancellor Philip DiStefano and the University of Colorado Board of Regents regarding the university’s ongoing investigation of Ward Churchill. The letter, written by FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Greg Lukianoff, makes three primary points: (1) Churchill’s speech was constitutionally protected; (2) Churchill’s speech was protected under traditional definitions of academic freedom; and (3) the university should use this case as an opportunity to affirm the free speech rights of all students and faculty, not just Churchill. As I explained in a previous post, Colorado has a checkered past when it comes to protecting even the most basic rights of dissent and protest.
For those who continue to ask why we defend the free speech rights of a man as vile as Churchill, I refer you to the penultimate paragraph in our letter:
Thomas Jefferson once said, “Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” Professor Churchill’s opinions regarding September 11 have been utterly rejected by the public at large, have caused public figures from across the political spectrum to unite in their outrage against him, and have led many of his own colleagues to condemn his statements. If he intended to generate sympathy for terrorists, the effect has been the opposite. We need not fear his words, and we must not allow our anger to cause us to betray our deepest moral and legal principles. Indeed, it is most important that at times like these we defend our fundamental liberties. Liberty faces a far greater threat from a rejection of the First Amendment than it does from the opinions of Ward Churchill.