Texas University Calls on State AG to Investigate Professor’s Speech
PEN America says online comment was clearly protected under the First Amendment
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — A professor at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas faces scrutiny from the state’s attorney general for a private facebook post that has prompted death threats. A professor of philosophy at the university for 12 years, Nathan Jun commented on a friend’s Facebook post with the following: “I want the entire world to burn until the last cop is strangled with the intestines of the last capitalist, who is strangled in turn with the intestines of the last politician.” Jun defended the comment, saying the post was “tongue-in-cheek” and a reference to 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot’s “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”
“While Professor Jun’s Facebook comment may sound extreme when read literally, this is clearly an instance of extramural political commentary—protected speech for which Jun should certainly not face a government investigation,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Campus Free Speech program. “Jun’s private post was simply a ‘philosopher’s joke’ from one intellectual to another, and it can only be assumed that he is being attacked because of the political nature of his posts.”
Although Midwestern State University president Suzanne Shipley publicly affirmed Professor Jun’s right to free speech, the administration asked the Texas state attorney general’s office to review and decide if the professor’s speech is not protected by the First Amendment. Shipley has said that she is committed to taking “decisive action” if the attorney general’s office determines that Jun’s speech is not protected under the First Amendment.
“No university needs to go to their state’s attorney general to decide whether political commentary engaged in on their own time is protected,” Friedman said. “This sets a dangerous precedent and flies in the face of the basic premise of the First Amendment. PEN America urges Midwestern State University to rescind its request for an investigation and to publicly restate their commitment to defending their professors’ academic freedom and right to free speech.”