(CN) – Hispanic professors can’t use the courts to stifle what they consider racist e-mails sent to everyone in their district by a math teacher, the 9th Circuit ruled.
The three-judge panel tossed the claims against Walter Kehowski at Maricopa Community College. His colleagues claimed he sent three e-mails to all employees in the school district touting European whites as superior.
Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said the issue is one of academic debate, adding that it’s not the court’s job to figure out if his ideas have academic merit.
“Those offended by Kehowski’s ideas should engage him in debate or hit the ‘delete’ button’ when they receive his e-mails,” Kozinski wrote. “They may not invoke the power of the government to shut him up.”
Kehowski, a math teacher at Glendale Community College, sent out three e-mails in 2006.
The first had “Dia de la raza” in its subject line and asked, “Why is the district endorsing an explicitly racist event?”
A week later, Kehowski sent another e-mail, headed, “YES! Today’s Columbus Day! It’s time to acknowledge and celebrate the superiority of Western Civilization.” The e-mail included quotes on “democracy” that touted “European ideas.”
The e-mail also promoted a theory that “Native Americans actually committed genocide against the original white-skinned inhabitants of North America.”
His third e-mail lashed out at critics who called him “racist,” saying, “Boogie-boogie-boo to you too! Racist? Hardly. Realistic is more like it.” He also urged colleagues to report illegal immigrants, according to the ruling.
A group of colleagues then sued.
But because the e-mails reflect Kehowski’s supposed beliefs, Kozinski said the suit can’t continue.
“It is axiomatic that the government may not silence speech because the ideas it promotes are thought to be offensive,” the judge wrote. “There is no categorical ‘harassment exception’ to the First Amendment’s free speech clause.”
She said Kehowski’s unpopular beliefs provoked debate and therefore deserve protection.
“The Constitution embraces such a heated exchange of views, even … when they concern sensitive topics like race, where the risk of conflict and insult is high,” Kozinski wrote. “The right to provoke, offend and shock lies at the core of the First Amendment.”
Kozinski also noted that Kehowski’s e-mails could be considered discrimination if Kehowski was a supervisor.