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We must protect free speech E-mail
Friday, 04 October 2013 12:16

By Colby Free Press, Sept. 24


First-Amendment rights are fine, apparently, unless what you say is so controversial no one wants to be associated with it.

At least that’s what David Guth, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, found last week in the wake of the Navy Yard shootings in Washington.

Guth issued a “tweet” on the web service Twitter reacting to the 13 deaths: “Blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters.”

Not much happened until a website called CampusReform.org posted a story on Thursday, but that sparked an angry reaction across the country. Soon, pro-gun members of the Kansas Legislature were calling for the professor’s job, if not his head.

At KU, his bosses were behind him — way back, it seemed. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little announced that Professor Guth had been placed on administrative leave pending a review, in order “to prevent disruptions to the learning environment.”

Higher ups at the state Board of Regents issued a statement expressing “disgust and offense” at the tweet and backing the chancellor. Ann Brill, dean of the School of Journalism,” said in a statement, “Professor Guth’s views do not represent our school and we do not advocate violence against any group or individuals. .

“While the First Amendment allows anyone to express an opinion, that privilege is not absolute and must be balanced with the rights of others. That’s vital to civil discourse.”

So much for freedom of speech, or academic freedom, for that matter.

Gun-rights groups began calling for the professor to be fired. A National Rifle Association spokesman was quoted as calling the tweet “hate speech.”

“It is disgusting and deplorable,” he said. “It has no place in our society.”

Mr. Guth himself was calmer.

“It got a conversation going,” he told the Associated Press. “That’s exactly what I wanted to do. “

He said he agreed with the university’s action in light of e-mailed threats he and others at KU had received.

“It’s in the best interest and peace of mind of our students that I remove myself from the situation and let cooler heads prevail,” he told the AP. “I know what I meant. Unfortunately, this is a topic that generates more heat than light.”

Dave Guth is not the kind of guy who’d want to see anyone shot. His was a comment sent off to the world in haste. He could perhaps have chosen his words more carefully. That’s one of the pitfalls of Twitter.

Many might agree with his argument that gun-rights groups would see things differently if some of these nut-case shootings involved someone they knew. It’s not a sentiment that this newspaper endorses, by the way, but it is a legitimate argument for one side in the national debate.

The victim here, aside from Dave Guth, is the First Amendment, and the free and open debate the Founders wanted to protect when they wrote that “Congress shall make no law” abridging the right to free speech.

Those who love and protect the First know it can be lonely duty. ...

And if we really mean it when we say we believe in free speech, then we sometimes have to defend all of them, not just pick and choose.

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