Univ. of Minnesota Prevails on Academic Rights Case Against Turkish Coalition

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on May 08, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last Thursday, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a First Amendment free speech case involving the University of Minnesota.

The Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of the University of Minnesota's right to free speech, with regard to its suggestion that the Turkish Coalition of America's website was an unreliable source of information on the Armenian Genocide.

The lawsuit arose when the Turkish Coalition sued the University of Minnesota, alleging defamation and a violation of the Coalition's right to free speech. The Turkish Coalition's stance on the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th Century is similar to that of the Turkish government, which denies that the killing of Armenians during and after World War I constituted genocide.

The federal district court had dismissed the Turkish Coalition's claims, finding that the University's website contained statements of scholarly opinion and critique, and were protected by the doctrine of academic freedom.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, and the court determined that the Turkish Coalition's claim failed. The court found that the Turkish Coalition had not shown that it suffered any restrictions on its speech activities as a result of the University's statements.

In response to the defamation claims, the court found that the defense of truth applied to some of the Turkish Coalition's claims. The other claims were statements of opinion, and as such were also insufficient to state a claim for defamation.

The case was closely watched by academics and scholars across the United States and the world, as the case sets the tone for the academic freedom doctrine in light of free speech restrictions.

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