UNC Asheville is right to defend free speech amid national criticism of Tamika Mallory, the controversial national co-chair of the Women’s March who will speak on the campus in honor of Martin Luther King, says a leading First Amendment lawyer and activist.

Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, praised UNC Asheville’s administration for resisting the “disturbing trend of campuses disinviting speakers after political pressure.”

Mallory, who is scheduled to give a keynote address at the university, is under fire for her affiliations with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan is known for his anti-Semitic views, and has made statements about “wicked Jews,” “false Jews,” and attacking homosexuality. Many liberal organizations, including the Democratic National Committee, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and EMILY’s List have dropped their sponsorships of the Women’s March as a result.

UNC Asheville administrators announced earlier this month that, despite opposition, Mallory’s speech won’t be canceled. The address is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at the school’s Lipinsky Auditorium.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. worked with diverse and sometimes opposing groups to overcome intolerance and to engage in the difficult yet vital work of the civil rights movement,” wrote Chancellor Nancy Cable and Provost Karin Peterson. “He allowed a plurality of voices to be heard and encouraged meaningful conversations with respect and reason. His legacy continues today, across the country and across differing groups, all working for social justice and advancing his message of tolerance and non-violence.”

“At their best, universities are places where thoughtful discussions and respectful disagreements can take place,” Shibley said.

“Those who disagree with Mallory’s views should seek to counter them through their own speech and arguments, not through preventing her from addressing students,” he told Carolina Journal. “Given that Martin Luther King spoke about the importance of freedom of speech and the First Amendment in his ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ speech just one day before his assassination, giving into pressure to disinvite a speaker at an event dedicated to his memory would be particularly unfortunate.”

Farrakhan is the “greatest of all time,” Mallory said in an Instagram post after attending his 2018 Savior’s Day speech in Chicago. The Women’s March leader has since stated she is not anti-Semitic, but her refusal to back away from Farrakhan has upset many supporters of the Women’s March.

In a recent conversation on ABC’s “The View,” Mallory stated that she doesn’t “agree with many of Mr. Farrakhan’s statements.”

But when pressed to condemn Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments, Mallory dodged the question.

“As I said, I don’t agree with many of Minister Farrakhan’s statements,” she repeated.