Dear Duke Law Community:
Below I share with you President Price's statement condemning the violence and despicable conduct and speech of white supremacists and anti-semites last week in Charlottesville, Virginia. We should all wholeheartedly join in the President’s statement of condemnation, mourning, and support of the people of Charlottesville as they rebuild their community. We should all re-commit to the principles of diversity, inclusion, and equal treatment.
As lawyers, sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, these kinds of tragic events present some unique challenges and responsibilities. There is our fidelity to equal protection and our opposition to all discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious belief. Hate groups that espouse discrimination and racial superiority do not share these important values, enshrined in law, and hard won. These groups challenge us to defend these rights again for our time and in our communities. We must do so.
At the same time, as lawyers, we have a special obligation to defend free speech and the rights of the speaker, including extremists and hate groups, those who are generally despised and whose beliefs we reject. This dual role is not easy. We defend the right to speech while we reject the unacceptable content of that speech in our own speech, and oppose all violence, coercion, law breaking, and intimidation. This dual role is particularly important on a university campus.
We are in a stressful period in our political life. We see democratic decision-making met with violence. Yet how admirable that one of the victims of this violence, Representative Steve Scalise, still recovering from serious injury, issued the following statement on Tuesday: “There must be no tolerance for racism in our nation and we must work together as Americans and human beings to defeat white supremacy and all forms of hatred.” And how moving are the tributes to Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville, and set such a fine example of peaceful activism, compassion, and commitment.
In the coming year we will undoubtedly be tested. We should work together to meet the challenges. Perhaps we might begin to explore how we can be social healers and support the victims of hatred and violence. We might consider how we can dispel the appeal extreme groups and their ideologies evidently have to some members of our society. We might consider how best to encourage peaceful communication however daunting that may seem. This will take the kind of study and thought that members of a university do so well.
As we head back into our academic year, let us re-dedicate ourselves to the rule of law and the democratic values we cherish.
David F. Levi
Dean and Professor of Law
Duke Law School
“What we have all seen in Charlottesville was a sickening display of hate, bigotry, racism, and ignorance, which must be denounced in strongest of terms. We mourn the weekend’s terrible injuries and tragic loss of life. That these events occurred on and around the grounds of one of our nation’s great universities only adds to our dismay and deepens our profound sympathies. We salute the people of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia for their courage and unbroken devotion to community in the face of such hatred, and restate our own steadfast commitments to diversity, inclusion and respect for everyone at Duke.”
Vincent E. Price
President, Duke University