‘Enemies of free speech:’ Furman professor addresses Unite the Right attendance

Civil liberties group calls for Chris Healy’s immediate return to classroom
Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 10:43 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 13, 2022 at 3:53 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - A civil liberties nonprofit is calling for a Furman University professor to be reinstated to the classroom after the university launched an investigation when they learned about his attendance of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) sent a letter to Furman’s president on Oct. 5, saying the university has “violated its free expression promises” by placing professor Chris Healy on leave.

The full letter (included below) says photos that have surfaced from the Unite the Right rally show Healy “peacefully standing in a crowd of individuals.”

A photographer from the Associated Press and other journalists captured images and video of Healy standing among white supremacist groups at the 2017 rally, which later turned deadly. After the photos were posted by a group called “Ignite the Right,” Furman issued a statement saying a professor - who they did not name - would not be on campus or teaching while they investigated the professor’s alleged association “with other organizations that are connected with white supremacist groups that promote racism, exclusion and hatred.”

Healy, who said he is cooperating fully with Furman’s investigation, released the following statement:

“This event dealt with the question of keeping intact a statue of 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. In the USA, we are not guilty by association, but I feel like a butterfly being accused of starting a hurricane.”

Healy signed a waiver authorizing Furman to release information about his employment status and personnel files to FIRE, which has an advocacy team working with him.

“In investigating and banning Professor Healy from campus, Furman University has violated its own commitments to protect faculty free expression,” said FIRE program officer Sabrina Conza. “Faculty have the freedom to peaceably protest, and Furman cannot investigate him for his mere association with viewpoints it deems ‘harmful.’ What’s harmful is the university’s blatant violation of faculty rights. Furman must immediately end its investigation and return Healy to the classroom.”

Read the full letter FIRE sent to Furman University below:

Furman University issued the following statement regarding the letter:

“As the president said in her message last Friday, this professor will not teach or be on campus as we gather the facts and determine next steps. We’re taking every measure to make sure there are limited disruptions for students, faculty and staff, and that our community comes through this even stronger than we were before.”

FIRE requested a response from Furman University by the close-of-business on Wednesday, Oct. 12.

As of Thursday, Furman University had not replied to the organization.

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