ACLU Urges Eastern Washington U. to Allow Ward Churchill to Speak

News Release: 
Monday, January 11, 2010

Dr. Stephen M. Jordan
Eastern Washington University
President’s Office

SHW 214
Cheney, WA 99004

Re: Cancellation of Churchill Event

Dear President Jordan:

The ACLU of Washington urges you to reconsider the decision to cancel the scheduled April 5 campus appearance of guest speaker Ward Churchill due to concerns over security. Canceling the appearance makes Eastern Washington University complicit in a "heckler's veto," where any group of protesters that is big enough or violent enough can silence their outnumbered opponents.

Mr. Churchill has recently been the subject of considerable criticism for some of his earlier statements about the terrorist attacks of September 11. We do not support his views, but the First Amendment protects Mr. Churchill's right to say unpopular or objectionable things, just as it protects his detractor's rights to criticize him.

One important role of a public university should be to create a neutral forum where students, faculty, and the general public can consider competing ideas and opinions. A university should not seek to avoid grappling with the controversial ideas of a guest speaker out of fear that he might attract a hostile crowd.

The ACLU believes that with proper consideration, the EWU administration can convey to the EWU community the importance of tolerating – and even listening to- opposing views. We also believe that campus security forces, aided if necessary by neighboring police forces, have the capacity to keep the peace. Since the announced topic of Mr. Churchill's presentation had nothing to do with his controversial statements about September 11, there is even less reason to believe that the event will be unsafe.

US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once explained that under the American system, the remedy for speech one dislikes is “more speech, not enforced silence.” Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 377 (1927). EWU recognized this when it arranged for competing presentations in the "Eastern Dialogue" series that is to include Ron Jeremy. It should follow the same principle here.


Kathleen Taylor
Executive Director

Cc: Dr. Patricia Chantrill, President of the Faculty Organization
Dr. Anthony Flinn, President of the United Faculty of Eastern Washington Univ.