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Oklahoma Legislature: Do You Plan to Keep Investigating Richard Dawkins Speech?

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On Friday, I posted about the revelation that members of the Oklahoma Legislature are investigating the March 6th speech given by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins at the University of Oklahoma. This investigation came after a state representative tried to pass two resolutions condemning Dawkins and evolution. This morning I e-mailed this to every sitting member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives:

Dear House of Representatives of the State of Oklahoma,

I am the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a blogger for The Huffington Post, and a constitutional lawyer. Over the last ten years FIRE has proudly defended freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and due process for students and faculty across the political spectrum. I have been following the legislature's interest in the March 6, 2009, speech by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, both prior to and following the speech.

On Friday I received documentation from the University of Oklahoma that on March 6 Representative Rebecca Hamilton requested all e-mails and correspondence relating to the speech; a list of all money paid to Dawkins and the entities, public and private, responsible for this funding; and the total cost to the university, including, among other things, security fees, advertising, and even "faculty time spent promoting this event." On Thursday, March 12 Rick Farmer, the director of Committee Staff for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, also wrote the University requesting confirmation that Dawkins had waived all compensation for the speech.

The Supreme Court has been quite clear "that legislative investigations, whether on a federal or state level, are capable of encroaching upon the constitutional liberties of individuals." Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 245 (1957). Furthermore, the "right to lecture" is a "constitutionally protected freedom." Sweezy, 354 U.S. at 249-50. When the New Hampshire state legislature questioned a professor from a state college about his views, the Court found the investigation unconstitutional, holding that it "unquestionably was an invasion of petitioner's liberties in the areas of academic freedom and political expression-areas in which government should be extremely reticent to tread." Id. at 250. See also Baird v. State Bar of Ariz., 401 U.S. 1, 7 (1971); Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178 (1957).

I understand that the University of Oklahoma has, despite the fact such an investigation was of dubious constitutionality, already complied with Representative Hamilton's request for the correspondence relating to the speech. I ask you now: does the Oklahoma House of Representatives intend to pursue this matter any further? Given the intense national and international interest in this case and because it implicates the most crucial of constitutional values, I request a response as soon as possible.

Thank you for your time.


Greg Lukianoff

I'll let you know if they respond.