University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill has come under serious scrutiny for an essay he wrote after Sept. 11, entitled "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens." In the piece, he argued that the Sept. 11 attacks were a legitimate response to the United States' treatment of Iraqis dating back to the Gulf War.
(Oops: I thought Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11.)
In this brilliant piece of scholarly wisdom, Churchill describes the terrorists as "combat teams," and the victims inside the twin towers as "little Eichmanns," in reference to Adolph Eichmann, the infamous Nazi who helped execute Hitler's plan to exterminate the world's Jews. He also went on to say that the victims at the Pentagon were military targets and that no victims were innocent.
In the last few weeks, Churchill has been at the center of a firestorm. He, his supporters and his opponents have debated the merits of his speech on every cable news channel ad nauseum. Hamilton College in New York cancelled a lecture by Churchill amidst the controversy, and while security concerns were cited, some free speech advocates believe the university caved in to public pressure. All the while, the governor of Colorado, Bill Owens, has called for Churchill's removal, and the University of Colorado is deciding if disciplinary measures (including firing Churchill) should be taken.
It's extremely easy right now to hate Ward Churchill. He's made baseless and egregious comments, offended anybody with a shred of decency and managed to insult innocent victims of terrorism. Nonetheless, his speech, albeit ridiculous, is constitutionally protected. The way to battle back against people like Churchill is to provide a normal opposing viewpoint, which in this case shouldn't be too difficult. The answer is not to silence him by firing him from the university for speaking his mind. In the end, well-reasoned and rational speeches win out over nonsensical ramblings. It's very easy to defend First Amendment rights when we agree with the speech in question. Any free society needs to protect the unpopular speech as well.