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Human rights group backs professor who said killing ‘transphobes’ is better than shouting at them

A ‘blatant overreaction’ to ‘satirical’ remarks

A human rights organization has come out in support of the Wayne State University English professor who wrote on Facebook that it would be better to kill right-wing “transphobes” than to just “shout them down.”

PEN America, which claims to “stand at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide,” put out a statement last week saying Steven Shaviro’s post was “satirical, extramural speech” and called the response to it a “blatant overreaction.”

To emphasize his point, Shaviro had noted how a Jewish anarchist had been acquitted of murdering a military official found responsible for the killings of thousands of European Jews in the early 20th century.

Wayne State ultimately referred the matter to law enforcement as school president M. Roy Wilson said Shaviro’s remarks “far exceed the bounds of reasonable or protected speech.”

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On March 30, PEN America Director of Free Expression and Education Jonathan Friedman said

The choice to suspend Shaviro and report his social media post to police is a blatant overreaction to the facts at hand. When understood in context, Shaviro’s comments are satirical, extramural speech, a form of political commentary regarding the shouting down of speakers on university campuses. Shaviro’s choice of words may reflect poor judgment, but abstract reflection on these topics clearly does not rise to the very high standard of true threats or incitement, even if provocative or even shocking in nature; no one should be prosecuted for making bad jokes on the internet.

Friedman added that Shaviro’s (pictured) comments were his own, not related to his official Wayne State duties, and that “academic freedom extends beyond the classroom for good reason: a university cannot fulfill its mission if faculty can be fired or jailed based on satire, political commentary or unfortunate senses of humor.”

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, also sided with Shaviro telling President Wilson in a letter that the professor’s post, “while provocative, is not unlawful”: It was “hypothetical and not directed at any person in particular, nor does it constitute a sincere expression of intent to undertake violence.”

Interestingly, both PEN America and FIRE recently were mum about another free expression matter, that of university researchers being about to get funding from fossil fuel companies. FIRE told The Fix it couldn’t currently comment as the situation appears “slightly outside [its] mission of defending students and faculty,” while PEN America did not respond at all to two Fix inquiries.

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IMAGES: Christopher Penler/Shutterstock.com; Steven Shaviro/Twitter screencap

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.