Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Free Speech Covers The Unpopular and Unhinged, Too

It's often said that everyone is in favor of free speech as long as the speaker is saying something they agree with. The recent hullabaloo about a University of Colorado professor's essay about 9/11 proves that point fairly well. Three years after his long, rambling and occasionally incoherent piece was published in a local newspaper (I actually read it, but I lost the link), the right wing has mobilized behind calls for him to be demoted or fired from his position at the University.

For what it's worth, most of his arguments are half baked and proceed from faulty assumptions. He goes way to far in equating WTC workers with Nazi bureaucratic functionaries, too. But the underlying theme of his screed might have merit: that, basically, we as a nation brought 9/11 upon ourselves as a result of our long-term foreign policy in the Middle East. Karma, in other words, turned around and bit us in the ass. It's an incomplete theory, but considering that it was written the day of the attacks admit recurring choruses of "why would anyone do something like that," it has some value. At any rate, it certainly is his right to say it and the right of everyone else in the country to disagree with it.

Should he be fired for it? Of course not. For one thing, the essay itself was delivered out of class and thus the right wing talking points of "captive" audiences is misplaced. Similarly, he appears to have written as a private citizen, not a mouthpiece or representative of the University (nor even using his credentials as any sort of endorsement of his views). So the question really is whether he should be fired for exercising his constitutional rights outside of his employment. Obviously, he shouldn't.

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