NCAC joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in filing a friend of the court brief calling for the reinstatement of Ward Churchill, who was fired from his tenured position at the University of Colorado after writing a controversial essay. The case became highly politically charged after public officials began to call for Churchill’s dismissal because of disagreement with his views.
Last year, a jury sided with Churchill, who had contested the University’s actions on First Amendment grounds. The jury found that he had been fired because of the opinions he expressed, and that he would not have been fired but for his protected speech. Nonetheless, a judge denied him reinstatement.
NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin says,
You don’t have to agree with Churchill’s views to recognize his right to express them. In this case the university failed to uphold the most basic principles of academic freedom. Reinstatement will restore Churchill to the position he would have been in if his First Amendment rights had not been violated. It is necessary to make it clear that public officials cannot violate the Constitution with impunity.
As the brief explains, reinstatement is the only meaningful remedy available to vindicate the constitutional rights at stake in this case.
Check out more about the issue here.
University Of Colorado Must Reinstate Professor Whose Free Speech Rights Were Violated
ACLU, AAUP And NCAC File Brief Urging Court To Uphold First Amendment In Ward Churchill Case
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 18, 2009
Rachel Myers, ACLU national, (212) 549-2689 or 2666; firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado, (303) 777-5482 x114
NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Colorado, American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) today submitted a brief to a Colorado Court of Appeals arguing that the University of Colorado, a publicly funded university, should reinstate a tenured professor who was wrongly terminated from his job there for exercising his right to free speech.
“The First Amendment prohibits public officials from suppressing lawful speech or retaliating against those who engage in such speech, no matter how unpopular or offensive the speech may be to some people,” said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. “That is especially the case in the university setting, where the Supreme Court has made clear that First Amendment freedoms must be vigilantly protected.”
After he was fired from the teaching post he had held for many years, Ward Churchill sued the University and its Board of Regents alleging that he was unconstitutionally terminated because of a controversial and unpopular essay he had written concerning the events on September 11.In April 2009, a jury agreed that Churchill was fired for expressing his personal opinions, which is a clear violation of his First Amendment rights.
However, a judge denied Churchill’s petition to be reinstated to his job, essentially denying him any relief for the blatant denial of his rights. Churchill is appealing that decision to the Colorado Court of Appeals. The ACLU, ACLU of Colorado, AAUP and NCAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting reversal of the trial court’s decision, arguing that plaintiffs whose constitutional rights have been violated must be provided with a remedy, and that in this case, Churchill should be reinstated to the job from which he was wrongly fired.
“Denying a remedy to people whose rights have been violated amounts to gutting the Constitution,” said Mariko Hirose, a legal fellow with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. “The court has a responsibility to ensure the University of Colorado rights its wrong and reinstates Professor Churchill immediately.”
“Unless the trial court’s ruling is corrected, university professors will receive the chilling message that silence is smart and voicing unpopular views can be fatal to their careers,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. “The First Amendment right to speak out is meaningful only if it is enforceable in court.”
Today’s friend-of-the-court brief is available here.
Attorneys include Fine and Hirose of the ACLU First Amendment Working Group, Silverstein of the ACLU of Colorado, Rachel Levinson of AAUP and Joan Bertin of NCAC.