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NYCLU Warns Schools Chancellor Is Violating Free Speech Rights Of Columbia Professor

In a letter to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the New York Civil Liberties Union has expressed deep concern about the barring of a Columbia University professor from taking part in a City Schools program, a decision that violates the professor’s First Amendment rights. The Department of Education (DOE) has barred Professor Rashid Khalidi from serving in the future as in instructor in its Profession Development Program based on “his past statements,” according to published reports. It appears that the termination of Professor Khalidi rested not upon any quarrel with his lectures in the Professional Development Program but because of his academic writings or political views.

“The Chancellor’s action raises serious constitutional First Amendment concerns when a government agency seeks to punish or to retaliate against an individual based on that individual’s ideological expression or association. The NYCLU believes the decision to remove Professor Khalidi from the program was ideologically motivated and amounts to ‘viewpoint discrimination,’” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU.

Professor Khalidi has taught in the DOE’s Professional Development Program in the past and, according to the program’s creator Mark Wilner, Professor Khalidi’s past lecture was “on geography and demography.” Wilner has confirmed that the lecture was neither controversial nor political in nature.

Seen in those terms, the NYCLU believes the termination of Professor Khalidi raises serious constitutional First Amendment concerns. “Viewpoint discrimination” by government agencies is the most suspect form of speech regulation and generally is not permitted by law. It is well recognized that when a speaker is an independent messenger, government micromanagement of the content of the message violates the First Amendment.

Said Art Eisenberg, Legal Director of the NYCLU: “Ironically, it appears that a program designed to help teachers understand the politics and culture of the Middle East in order to promote tolerance and understanding is itself falling victim to the intolerance the program was designed to avert.”

The NYCLU urged the Schools Chancellor to rescind the DOE directive terminating Professor Khalidi.

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