Yesterday a letter was delivered to Yale university chastising it for not standing up for free speech in the face of imaginary threats of violence. The letter was signed by sixteen organisations:
American Association of University Professors
American Civil Liberties Union
American Federation of Teachers
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Center for Democracy and Technology
Center for Inquiry
College Art Association
First Amendment Lawyers Association
First Amendment Project
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
International Publishers Association
Modern Language Association
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Council of Teachers of English
National Education Association
People For the American Way Foundation
In August this year Yale University Press made the decision to publish an academic work on the Motoons, The Cartoons That Shook the World, without the cartoons, citing "a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims" as their excuse.
The statement of principle was written by National Coalition against Censorship Executive Director Joan Bertin and president of the American Association of University Professors Cary Nelson. It concludes:
The incident at Yale provides an opportunity to re-examine our commitment to free expression. When an academic institution of such standing asserts the need to suppress scholarly work because of a theoretical possibility of violence "somewhere in the world," it grants legitimacy to censorship and casts serious doubt on their, and our, commitment to freedom of expression in general, and academic freedom in particular.
The failure to stand up for free expression emboldens those who would attack and undermine it. It is time for colleges and universities in particular to exercise moral and intellectual leadership. It is incumbent on those responsible for the education of the next generation of leaders to stand up for certain basic principles: that the free exchange of ideas is essential to liberal democracy; that each person is entitled to hold and express his or her own views without fear of bodily harm; and that the suppression of ideas is a form of repression used by authoritarian regimes around the world to control and dehumanize their citizens and squelch opposition.
To paraphrase Ben Franklin, those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, will get neither liberty nor safety.