Statement on Ward Churchill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 8, 2005
The First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution protects Ward Churchill's right to speak or write his opinions and it protects the rights of his detractors to say they do not like what he wrote or said. The ACLU of Colorado stands firmly for these rights of free speech.
The ACLU of Colorado calls upon the Regents, legislators and the Governor to stop threatening Mr. Churchill's job because of the content of his opinions. This governmental interference with the content of Mr. Churchill's constitutionally protected opinions tramples on fundamental American values.
The Regents should take care that the Chancellor's investigation of Mr. Churchill's competence is not a fishing expedition to find something – anything – to use as an excuse to fire him. If that happens, their action will be subjected to a high level of scrutiny to determine if it is really a guise to fire him for the content of his writing. As Justice Anthony Kennedy said, "[t]he First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech."
Free speech means we may hear something we do not want to hear. However, that does not give anyone the right to stifle dissent, especially on a university campus. After World War I, when the United States was gripped with fear over the first red scare, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes urged Americans to tolerate even opinions "that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death." It is understandable that people found Mr. Churchill's comment offensive. His language was harsh and he pointed his finger of blame for the attacks at the U.S. government, not at the zealots who flew the planes.
Death threats, canceling speaking engagements and threats of losing his job are not appropriate responses to Ward Churchill's opinions, even if you believe they are outrageous. Those threats are not expressions of American values. The ACLU of Colorado agrees with Adlai Stevenson, Jr. when he said in 1952, "My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular."