What Freedom Of Speech Isn’t

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Here's a story that illustrates wrong thinking on what the constitution guarantees.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison announced Thursday that it would launch a review of an instructor who argues that the U.S. government orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks for its own benefit.

The instructor, Kevin Barrett, is co-founder of an organization called the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance, which claims the Bush administration planned the attacks to create a war between Muslims and Christians. He argues that members of the faiths must work together to overcome the belief that terrorists were to blame.

"The 9/11 lie was designed to sow hatred between the faiths," Barrett has written on the organization's Web site.

"Either we discuss the compelling evidence that 9/11 was an inside job, or there is precious little to talk about."

Barrett, who did not return calls Thursday and an e-mail seeking comment, has taught a class on cultural folklore and is scheduled to teach an introductory class on Islam this fall in Madison. He has said he discusses his views on Sept. 11 in the classroom.

In a written statement Thursday, Provost Patrick Farrell said the university would conduct a 10-day review of Barrett's plans for the fall course and his past teaching performance. He said Barrett's syllabus, reading list and past evaluations by supervisors and students would be examined.

"Mr. Barrett's statements regarding the events of Sept. 11 have raised some legitimate concerns about the content and quality of instruction in his planned fall course," Farrell said.

"Mr. Barrett is entitled to his own personal political views. But we also have an obligation to ensure that his course content is academically appropriate, of high quality, and that his personal views are not imposed on his students," the statement says.


Barrett has shared his views in letters to The Capital Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education and has discussed them on Wisconsin Public Radio.

But it wasn't until he spoke on a conservative talk show hosted by Jessica McBride on WTMJ-AM (620) Wednesday night that Barrett prompted a public outcry in Wisconsin. He talked openly about his Sept. 11 beliefs and said he discussed them in the classroom.


Mir Babar Basir, a recent graduate of UW-Madison who served as president of the Muslim Students Association, said he knew Barrett and agreed with his take on the attacks. He said Griffin drew hundreds of supportive observers when he spoke at the university.

"This is not just Kevin Barrett's idea," Basir said. "It's legitimate to think that the U.S. government was involved."

"When David Ray Griffin spoke, it was packed," Basir added. "Madison is fairly liberal. It's not surprising that a lot of people agreed with him."

David Walsh, president of the UW System Board of Regents, said Barrett should be able to share his views in the classroom.

"Unless he's yelling fire in a crowded theater, we need to be careful to protect his academic freedom," Walsh said.

A point that appears to be missed by the supporters of this guy. This is not, in fact, a free speech issue. It is an employment issue. Mr. Barrett was hired to teach a given subject. To the extent he is espousing his political theories in class, he is not meeting the requirements of the job he was hired to do. Does he have a right to his opinions? Of course. Does he have a right to force them on students trying to learn a subject? No he does not.

A thought experiment: If Mr. Barrett were discussing an opinion to keep, bear and cut loose at random with automatic weapons, would his support be as strong? If he were to spend his class time discussing his opinions on the relative merits of the sport of curling or showing his vacation slides during his introductory cultural folklore class would anyone be talking about academic freedom?

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2 Responses to What Freedom Of Speech Isn’t

  1. FRauBudgie says:

    This isn’t even an topic for free speech. It’s an issue that’s been discussed widely for years by Coast-to-Coast George Noory, Art Bell, Jeff Rense and Alex Jones. When they’re not involved with crop circles.

  2. Gaius says:

    It’s a particularly sickening conspiracy theory, even as weird as some of those get.

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