Free speech group asks university to reinstate professor who attended Charlottesville rally

A free speech advocacy group has called for the reinstatement of a Furman University professor suspended last weekend for attending a White supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) told university President Elizabeth Davis in a letter Wednesday night that Furman “violated its free expression promises” by placing computer science professor Chris Healy on leave.

“While some may be deeply offended by Healy’s attendance at that protest, Furman promises its community freedom of expression and cannot backtrack based on the exercise of that freedom,” the nonpartisan group stated in the letter.

The private university in Greenville, South Carolina, did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the letter.

On Friday, the anti-fascist group Ignite the Right posted Associated Press photographs on social media that showed Mr. Healy standing in a crowd of White supremacists at the “Unite the Right” rally, which later turned deadly.

As the social media posts went viral, Ms. Davis announced Friday night that Mr. Healy would be barred from campus while Furman “determines next steps.”

“The views of the organizers of the ‘Unite the Right’ rally do not reflect the values that I hold, and they are not the values that we have committed to in our vision, mission and values statements,” Ms. Davis said.

“They are harmful to members of our community, diminish a sense of belonging, and inhibit each individual’s opportunity to thrive,” she added.

In a statement that FIRE shared Thursday, Mr. Healy confirmed that he attended an event at the rally, which centered on preserving a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

“All I did in attending the event was exercise my rights as an American citizen, and this episode has taught me that there are real enemies of free speech,” Mr. Healy said. “In the USA, we are not guilty by association, but I feel like a butterfly being accused of starting a hurricane.”

During the rally, an avowed White supremacist drove his car through a group of protesters, killing one of them. Two Virginia State Police troopers died when their helicopter crashed as they were surveying the event.

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