ACLU condemns efforts at censorship at UMass/Amherst

BOSTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts applauds efforts by student and faculty leaders at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst to ensure that a planned talk by Raymond Luc Levasseur goes forward, despite calls for censorship.

“Going ahead with the speech is the right thing to do,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.ย “Whatever you think of this particular speaker, his invitation to speak shouldn’t be revoked because someone objects. This situation is an important reminder that we must remain true to the principles of free speech and the market place of ideas — even unpopular ideas –upon which our state universities, and nation, were built.”

Levasseur is a former leader in a 1970s radical group and is on parole from his conviction for a number of serious crimes. He had been scheduled to speak at UMass Amherst as part of a colloquium on the 1960s sponsored by the UMass Amherst Library archives. The name of Mr. Levasseur’s talk was “The Great Western Massachusetts Sedition Trial: 20 Years Later.”

“Censorship is never the answer,” said Rose. “Those who object to Levasseur’s appearance should use this opportunity to educate the public about their views on what happened, rather than trying to prevent others from hearing him.”

“The intervention of Governor Deval Patrick in this controversy is particularly troubling,” said Rose, responding to public statements by the Governor, first applauding efforts to cancel the talk and then expressing “disappointment” that Levasseur would be allowed to speak.

“Governor Patrick took an oath to support the Constitution, including its guarantee of freedom of speech,” said John Reinstein, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “While he may not agree with the result of doing so in all cases, his obligation remains the same. The same is true for the president and chancellor of the university. They are not only bound to support the Constitution. They should be the first to defend academic freedom.”

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