(CNSNews.com) - The Missouri House of Representatives has sent a clear message to the state's university system: Questions about whether pedophilia is evil is not something that should be discussed on the taxpayers' dime.
The legislature voted 102-29 last week to eliminate professor Harris Mirkin's salary from the higher education budget in the coming year, after criticism that some of the scholar's writings condone pedophilia.
"Let Mirkin say what he wants to say, but my taxpayer dollars should not go to justify his research," Rep. Mark Wright, a Republican from Springfield who is calling for Mirkin's ouster, told CNSNews.com Friday.
In his writings, Mirkin, who has taught at the University of Missouri at Kansas City for 30 years, says sexual relations involving children deserves open discussion, not an emotional reaction that all such relationships are bad.
In the past, sex between children and adults has been permissible and even encouraged in some cultures, Mirkin writes. In his essay, "The Pattern of Sexual Politics: Feminism, Homosexuality and Pedophilia," he says:
"Though Americans consider intergenerational sex to be evil, it has been permissible or obligatory in many cultures and periods of history. Sex with male youths is especially widespread ... Many non-western cultures consider age-asymmetrical relationships to be a 'transient and natural stage in the lives of both adults and youths.' It is a duty, a part of the adult's job of educating children."
Mirkin was not available for comment Friday.
Wright introduced the amendment to the legislature, which would cut the university's funding by $100,000, even though Mirkin's salary is $68,088. The full $100,000 would be put directly into the state's Crime Victims Compensation Fund.
"What I did was send a clear message to the [university's] Board of Curators, that they need to look into this; they need to investigate this guy to see if he should be suspended or terminated," Wright said. "[Legislators] do have the 'power of the purse,' and that's how we send messages, at least here in Missouri."
UMKC's faculty responded to the Legislature's decision Thursday by releasing a statement backing Mirkin's rights, claiming they "deplore" the legislature's actions:
"Open and free exchange of ideas, even controversial ones, is a fundamental tenet of all universities," the statement said. "We strongly support Professor Mirkin's right as a scholar to express his views and find reprehensible the attempt by the Missouri House of Representative to stifle academic freedom."
However, earlier in the week, the school protected itself with a disclaimer: "Harris Mirkin's [thoughts] on the subject reflect his First Amendment right to free speech and in no way represent the views of the university."
Dick Kurtenbach, executive director of the Kansas-Western Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Mirkin's case is one of academic freedom.
"I think it is a case about academic freedom," Kurtenbach said. "I think that Professor Mirkin has every right within the context of his position within the University of Missouri at Kansas City to publish the kind of article he did.
"The efforts by the state legislature are more than misdirected, they are harmful and an assault on academic freedom," he said.
Kurtenbach added that words alone have never been ruled to be obscene, as pictures have. Wright's point of the matter is a misrepresentation of what the law allows for, especially in regards to freedom of speech and academic freedom, he said.
"Policymakers have their own view of what the Constitution means, and it is certainly open to interpretation," Kurtenbach said.
"Given that, I understand the difference of opinion between a policy maker and what's constitutional and what isn't, but some of the language used by [Wright] indicates a misunderstanding on his part on what the courts have to decide the law means in this area," he added.
"I think Professor Mirkin has every right to publish the kind of article he did," Kurtenbach said. "I think there is little question about that."
However, Wright said that academic freedom has its limits, and Mirkin's work surpassed those limits.
"I'm not sympathetic to a professor's stance on academic freedom, when he is clearly espousing illegal and immoral conduct on the taxpayer dime," Wright said.
"We all have a First Amendment right to say things that are wrong, but when you're advocating such immoral conduct and doing your research on the taxpayer dime, that's outrageous."
See Related Story:
Pedophilia Book Draws Fire from Minnesota Lawmaker (April 5, 2002)
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