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ACLU: Attempt to Silence or Fire UH Faculty Member a Threat to Free Speech Rights

April 2, 2019, 11:31 AM HST
* Updated April 2, 12:02 PM
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Local news outlets have reported that an attorney for former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha has demanded that Kenneth Lawson, an associate faculty specialist at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai’i (UH Law) and co-director of the Hawai‘i Innocence Project, stop commenting about the Kealoha case or be fired. The defense attorney for Kealoha sent the six page letter demanding that Professor Lawson stop commenting on the case in the press, and asserting that if Professor Lawson won’t stop commenting, UH Law should fire him.

“The ACLU supports free speech rights for all people, including Ken Lawson,” ACLU of Hawai‘i Executive Director Joshua Wisch said. “The Kealoha case is arguably the single largest corruption case in the history of our state, and it is only natural that experts such as Faculty Specialist Lawson are sought out to add perspective for local media reports. Such restrictions are never to be taken lightly, and are the rare exception to our right to free speech. We believe they are not warranted here.

According to a press release from the ACLU:

“This demand was made by an officer of the court toward a public university, which is supposed to be the quintessential forum for the marketplace of ideas and has the added protection of academic freedom. Demanding that a University restrict the free speech rights of its own faculty or fire them is a slippery slope and deserving of the most rigorous review. We do not believe restrictions on speech are warranted here.

Free speech rights belong to everyone. Like any defendants, the Kealohas are entitled to a presumption of innocence and to the enjoyment of due process rights. Like all of us, faculty member Lawson is entitled to share his thoughts on the case. We urge UH Law to review and reject this demand to restrict Ken Lawson’s free speech rights.”

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