Speech not free from criticism

Ward L. Churchill, a professor at the University of Colorado, has recently come under attack for a disparaging essay written after the Sept. 11 attacks on America. He is shocked that the public is outraged and demanding his termination from the university.

The professor called the terrorists from that deplorable morning “heroes.” They were cowards – nothing more, nothing less. The innocent people of that horrific morning are heroes. I remember pictures of a policeman bringing people out of the building and running back to save more. He made it out four times; the fifth time the building collapsed. He was a hero; if he were alive he would probably say, “I was just doing my job.” Modesty is the cornerstone of heroes.

Although I have a different opinion than the professor, I respect his right to express his opinion. But there are consequences attached, and he cannot be immune from them, just as I am not immune from the consequences of my opinion.

I agree he has every right to say, publish or disseminate his opinion and can do this in any way he deems necessary; even if others conclude his opinions are absurd and unfounded. The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees his right to free speech. However, just because what you say is protected under our Constitution, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences. He has the right to talk or write, and we have the right to walk away or turn the page.

It would be foolish to allow him to make such offensive statements and not hold him accountable. If a person were to stand in the middle of an ethnic neighborhood and shout an ethnic epithet, they to have to expect somebody to stand up to them, assault them or arrest them for inciting a riot. I do not condone violence, but if their words are offensive, they have to expect there to be a response. However, they do have the right to free speech, even if it goes against common sense.

Do I think the professor deserves to keep teaching? No. How can an ethnic studies professor be allowed to pass on such hate speech or teach such a narrow-minded view? Students attend college to get an education – to broaden their thought process, not narrow it. Imagine upon the completion of his class realizing that you’ve taken a step back in the evolution of understanding our differences. It would be no different than a Klansman teaching race relations. You would learn to hate, not embrace other cultures.

An ethnic studies professor should know that prejudice is a poison, not an antidote. We cannot excuse his bias as freedom of speech. He has the right to freedom of speech; he does not have the right to be free of the effects of that speech.

We all have the freedom to write or say anything we like. However, we do not have the right to demand people to listen or read it and expect offensive language to be dismissed as free speech. An artist that draws an offensive painting cannot expect it to be bought merely because he is exercising his right to free speech. We all have to suffer the consequences for what we say. We may gain friends or enemies depending on how it’s received.

The professor has the right to freedom of speech, not the right to be free of consequences.