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Letter: NYCLU Weighs In On Hamilton College Controversy

An edited version of this letter to The New York Times on the Hamilton College controversy appeared February 7, 2005.

Re: The controversy at Hamilton College (College Cancels Speech Over 9/11 Remarks). When Bill O’Reilly of Fox News Channel and the people he mobilizes succeed in compelling a college to ban a controversial speaker like Ward Churchill, academic freedom, which is at the core of any democracy, is the loser. O’Reilly himself, on any given night, might offend and incite those who disagree with him and he has every right to do so. He also has every right to speak out against those with whom he disagrees. But O’Reilly and others are wrong to try to silence others and taking their campaign into the realm of death threats and unlawful intimidation are not protected by the First Amendment and should be prosecuted.

Colleges and universities are repositories for ideas and those ideas must be allowed to flow freely on campus. Institutions of higher learning should not be guided by who will be invited to speak by consulting with cable talk show hosts, lawmakers or even donors. If colleges and universities are stifled from engaging in what they exist to do—promote and encourage the full range of opinions and thoughts—then they will cease to fulfill their obligations as teaching and learning institutions.

Those who disagree with what takes place on campus should loudly express their opinions, but leave the university to fulfill its mission as it sees fit.

Donna Lieberman
Executive Directory, New York Civil Liberties Union

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