Published June 09, 2008
The University of Oregon will play host Monday night to Holocaust denier David Irving, prompting protests from a local rights group.
The Pacifica Forum, a group that holds weekly meetings on the university’s campus in Euguene, Ore., has invited Irving to make an address about free speech. Irving's presentation is part of a nationwide tour which includes what he calls the "real history" of Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler. Irving is the third accused Holocaust denier who will have spoken to the group on campus.
“They cross the line into being anti-Semitic — they create such a comfortable environment for bigotry,” said Michael Williams, a board member of the Community Alliance of Lane County, a local social-justice group.
Williams is helping to organize a Monday-night protest vigil against Irving, a prolific historian who has stated that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz and routinely downplays the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust.
Irving has been barred entry to Austria, Germany, Australia and Canada, and spent 10 months in an Austrian prison for denying the Holocaust. The Anti-Defamation League has called Irving “one of the world’s most effective purveyors of Holocaust denial.”
The university washed its hands of responsibility for the event, saying that it wasn’t sponsoring Irving’s speech and was only serving as a venue. Orval Etter, one of the event's organizers and a former professor at the university, has the authority to reserve a room free of charge.
“The Pacifica Forum is not affiliated with the university — the space is being used under a campus policy that allows retired professors to rent rooms on campus,” said Julie Brown, director of media relations at the University.
Brown said the school would not seek to block Irving’s presence because it has a policy of respecting freedom of speech for all groups.
“The university is really committed to freedom of speech and wanting to make sure that there is a place for groups to be able to express their viewpoints,” she said.
Williams told FOXNews.com he respected the school's obligation to protect free speech, but said the university’s campus was not the right place to air the Pacifica Forum’s bigoted views.
“Their [Pacifica Forum] freedom of speech is adequately exercised on a street corner in the rain,” he said.
Though he said the vigil was not aimed at “shutting down” the forum, Williams hoped to “make it clear that we don’t support the kind of ideology that David Irving represents.”
The president of the university, Dave Frohnmayer, agreed. After a different Holocaust denier and self-described white supremacist visited the campus in 2007, Frohnmayer wrote a letter condemning the “gutter bigotry” of the Pacifica Forum, but defended its right to speak out.
“My own feeling is that these subjects are better expressed . . . than left to fester silently,” he wrote, but stressed that the forum “[did] not speak for the University of Oregon.”
Despite his objection to the content of the presentation Monday, Williams said he wasn’t concerned that students would attend the meeting or be swayed by the forum and David Irving’s anti-Semitic sentiments.
“Students stay away in droves,” he said.