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This Month in FIRE History: FIRE Releases Statement on Mohammed Cartoons

Four years ago last month, the global controversy over cartoons depicting Mohammed hit American college campuses. In response, FIRE issued a statement reminding colleges and universities that free speech needs protection even when it is difficult.

FIRE’s statement emphasized that the First Amendment protects the printing and posting of the infamous cartoons. In the months after the cartoons were first published in a Danish newspaper, students, professors, and student publications not only reprinted the controversial cartoons but also created their own satirical cartoons depicting Mohammed. Though many colleges acknowledged the importance of free expression, others turned to censorship in an attempt to keep controversy at bay.

As FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said at the time: "It is when expression is most hotly contested and the calls for suppression are the loudest that we must defend liberty the most fervently. I am reminded of the infinitely wise words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson: ‘Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.’”

Four years later, FIRE is still fighting this battle. Just last fall, Yale censored the cartoons again, refusing to allow their publication in a book about the controversy. The book, published by the Yale University Press in fall 2009, was supposed to contain images of the cartoons and other images of Mohammed. However, Yale University intervened in the editorial process and removed the cartoons. The book was published without any of the images, and Yale continues to stand by its decision on the grounds of avoiding further violence from people who do not respect the rule of law.

FIRE stands behind the statement we released in 2006, and we will continue to fight the censorship of these cartoons.

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