Academic Freedom: The Fall of the Last Bastion of Democracy

To the Honorable President of Baylor University Judge Kenneth Starr
To the Honorable Members of the Board of Regents of Baylor University

Re: Professor Marc Ellis

“The most important aspect of freedom of speech is freedom to learn. All is a continuous dialogue – questions and answers that pursue every problem on the horizon. That is the essence of academic freedom.”
–William Orville Douglas

“The whole idea of equal justice under law means that you’ve got to play by the rules. It has nothing to do with the underlying subject matter. You just tell the truth.”
–Kenneth Starr

Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen:

Baylor UniversityIn our nation freedom of speech much like freedom of the press is defined, implemented, and censored by those in power in direct contradiction to the words and spirit of our First Amendment.

Such is the current outrageous, dishonorable, and unconstitutional actions taken by Judge Starr against one of the country’s leading and most distinguished scholars on Jewish Studies, tenured Professor Marc Ellis, by eliminating his upcoming courses, shutting down his department, and launching an investigation on whether Professor Ellis’ writing against ISRAELI policies is anathema to the Jewish Christian Zionist’s standard of “thou shall not speak against Israel.”

The Baylor Lariat, November 30, 2011, highlighted Professor Ellis’ dissident voice against ’s policies as a major factor in his unwarranted persecution by Ken Starr:

“Dr. Marc Ellis, director of the university’s Center for Jewish Studies, said Baylor President Ken Starr approved charges against him in June at least in part because of his outspoken criticism of the state of ISRAEL”

It is a shameful stain on Baylor University, a Christian University that espouses to teach the life and moral values of Jesus (“Judge not lest you be judged”) should resort to such illegal and unconstitutional persecution of Professor Ellis simply for his right as an American citizen to speak and write freely in an environment that should respect academic freedom and free speech.

As a former Judge President Starr is fully aware of the Supreme Court’s decision cited below.

In a 1989 case before the Supreme Court on the freedom to burn the American flag, the Supreme Court ruled that such action is freedom of speech: Justice William J. Brennan asserted that:

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable.”

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What deemed heresy will next be on Baylor’s Christian chopping block? Ethnic cleansing of Non-Christians, expulsion of women unless they bow down in total obedience to man, the handicapped and poor students on scholarship, or anyone who is not born again nor blindly accepts Ken Starr’s and the University’s ultimatums.

Is this not hypocritical when compared to the statement below on Baylor’s mission and values?

“Baylor encourages all of its students to cultivate their capacity to think critically..to arrive at informed and reasoned conclusions.”

Starr and Baylor are creating a dangerous precedent of a new inquisition against those who espouse dissident opinions than the accepted conformity for Israel that it can do no wrong.

Is there a financial threat to Baylor that it will lose funds should it continue to keep Professor Marc Ellis’ as a tenured academician much like what happened at Harvard with Professor ? Even the founder and first Prime Minister of Israel, the very country Ken Starr is stealthily protecting would’ve respected Professor Ellis’ right to free speech and his dissidence from the overwhelming blind support Israel receives in this country, not out of love or strategic need, but out of sheer fear of its powerful lobbies.

David Ben Gurion said:

“The test of democracy is freedom of criticism.”

American ignorance on Israel is its best weapon of mass destruction against America’s national interests and the humanity of its occupied populations.

Baylor’s Board of Regents has a responsibility and obligation to uphold the University’s mission to its students, its faculty, and its national and international outreach to uphold Professor Marc Ellis’ absolute right as a tenured Professor and American citizen to exercise his constitutionally guaranteed free speech and his academic responsibility to provide his students and society at large with opposing and dissenting views on Israel or any other issue.

As Ronald Reagan said:

“There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.”

Baylor can solidify the principle that universities are truly the foundation of reason, rationality, critical thought based on knowledge of all sides of an issue, an environment of freedom for the mind and soul, a bastion for free flowing ideas, debates, and research, a pathway to graduate free thinkers who will enter a world challenged by and challenging of competing ideas.

Without such principles there is neither an educational institution nor true learning.

To avoid a historical mistake and shame upon Baylor, the renowned and distinguished Professor Marc Ellis must not face any politically motivated investigation of his academic freedom that might incredibly lead to his dismissal.

Board of Regents, this is not only the right thing to do but the only intellectually honest and sound decision worthy of Baylor University.

With utmost respect;

Mohamed Khodr

* Mohamed Khodr is a political activist who frequently writes on the plight of Palestinians living under the brutal occupation of Israel, U.S. Foreign Policy, Islam, and Arab politics.

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