The University of Wisconsin is a public institution which has received both my donations in the past and my tax dollars in the present. It also receives plenty of federal money. Because of this, one would think that the First Amendment would be upheld in such a place.
Apparently not because the they symposium I was supposed to attend was reportedly canceled over the weekend because the meeting’s sponsors couldn’t guarantee nor pay for security for Cindy Sheehan.
“A distinguished group of panelists from across the American political spectrum will gather to discuss electoral reform, the peace movement, and the growing dissatisfaction with both Republicans and Democrats. Panelists include Theresa Amato, Angela Keaton, Ben Manski, Sean Scallon, Cindy Sheehan, and Christina Tobin. The event will be moderated by Steve Burns, Program Director of Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice. The event will be held on Monday, April 26 at 7:00 p.m. in the Memorial Union at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
In a last minute twist, Union Building Event Management Director Roger Vogts canceled the event organizer’s booking of the facility, citing “security concerns” that would accompany antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan’s visit. Free and Equal has attempted to contact university security officials, but Vogts stated that he could not contact security over the weekend.
In addition, event organizers were told on Friday they must pay a sizable fee for security, even though Sheehan never requested security. In Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (505 U.S. 123, 1992), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.”
Because the Union’s Central Reservations presides over a viewpoint-neutral limited public forum at the Union and other facilities, the Union is bound by the same constitutional demands as the local government in Forsyth County. It is unconstitutional for any viewpoint-neutral limited public forum to deny any organization free speech rights on the grounds they are unable to provide for extra security costs related to the exercise of that free speech.
To add to the intrigue, these concerns were not expressed when Norman Finkelstein spoke at University of Wisconsin at Madison on April 13, a man known for his criticism of Israel and barred from visiting the country until 2018 because the country considers him a “security threat.” Not to mention, Cindy Sheehan has spoken in Madison several times in the past without incident.
In spite of Vogts attempts to cancel the event, the organizing committee and panelists have decided the event will still take place at the Union. If university officials do not permit panelists and guests to congregate at the room originally booked, the event will take place on the front steps of the Union or in the lobby of the Union.
At this time, event organizers are still undecided on filing a lawsuit against the Union on grounds of a violation of their First Amendment rights.
When one considers the kinds of controversial people and groups (including George Wallace, the Weathermen and a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon) who have spoken at meetings, mass or otherwise, at the University of Wisconsin over the years, particularly at the Memorial Union, the idea that our little group somehow merits cancellation because of “security concerns”, is both hilarious and tragic at the same time. Hopefully this will be resolved by tomorrow morning but one has the feeling that there’s something else going on behind the scenes that triggered this mess. I do not know what is going to happen, nor do I desire or wish to be a part of any confrontation, but I am also not going to back down either. In words of Ronald Reagan, I am paying for this university and I will be damned if I can’t speak my mind on it.
Gee, I didn’t realize a Left-Right meeting would be so controversial as to be considered dangerous.
Here’s the Wisconsin State Journal story on this.
Ronald Reagan \”I am paying for this microphone Mr. Green!\”