Editorial: Free speech should not be penalized

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 2, 2005

The comments made in an essay by a University of Colorado professor were insensitive and poorly-timed, there’s no doubt about that, but broad perspectives are expected at institutions of higher learning and sometimes those viewpoints offend others. However, calls for his resignation go too far.

Ward Churchill resigned as chairman of the ethnic studies department after a scheduled appearance at a New York university was protested by relatives of 9/11 victims over comments he made in the essay following the terrorist attacks.

According to an Associated Press report, he called the victims &uot;little Eichmanns,&uot; a reference to Adolf Eichmann, who organized Nazi plans to kill Europe’s Jews.

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He also referred to the &uot;combat teams&uot;

that struck the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon as having made &uot;gallant sacrifices.&uot;

In a statement, Churchill said he didn’t defend the Sept. 11 attacks, but was referring to a flawed U.S. foreign policy.

&uot;I have never said that people ‘should’ engage in armed attacks on the United States, but that such attacks are a natural and unavoidable consequence of unlawful U.S. policy,&uot;

he said in defense of his original essay.

The bigger picture here is the professor has the right to express his opposition to U.S. policies and the government under our Constitution. That he needs a lesson in tact is unquestionable.

The college rightly defended Churchill’s freedom of speech, saying a strong university’s lifeblood is its &uot;diversity of ideas.&uot;

Offering only non-offensive perspectives is not what we expect of our universities and will result in a watered-down educational system, and a compliant society. Is that really what we want?

Indeed the comments were ill-timed, and an apology to the victims seems in order, but penalizing him for exercising his rights is wrong.