BOISE, Idaho -- Warning the state that it has violated a professor's academic freedom, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the Idaho Board of Education demanding that it reconsider its decision not to fund a research project exploring the history of lesbians and gay men in the Pacific northwest.
In its letter, the ACLU wrote that the Board's decision not to fund the project "violated constitutional guarantees against government interference in free speech" and advised the Board to act by June 30 or expect a lawsuit. The board's rejection has already prompted nationwide condemnation from history professors and academic groups including the American Association of University Professors.
At issue is a grant proposal submitted by Dr. Peter Boag, a historian at Idaho State University, to study lesbian and gay communities in the northwest between 1870 - 1920. Dr. Boag's proposal in the burgeoning field of gay academic studies had been highly praised by his peers and earned high ratings that would have qualified any other project.
"But Dr. Boag's research proposal was rejected for one simple reason," said Jack Van Valkenburgh, executive director of the ACLU of Idaho. "His project was denied because it dealt with lesbian and gay issues. The board should not turn academic pursuits into a politicized process."
Because the board's decision involves public funds, the guarantees of the First Amendment against viewpoint discrimination apply. "Suppressing a research project because the subject may be unpopular is naked viewpoint discrimination," said Jennifer Middleton, staff attorney with the national ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, who together with ACLU of Idaho cooperating attorney John Hummel is representing Dr. Boag.
The letter also quoted the United States Supreme Court in a landmark case on academic freedom. "To impose a strait jacket upon the intellectual leaders in our colleges and universities would imperil the future of our Nation," the Court wrote in 1967. "Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die."