A federal judge has ruled that the University of Wyoming must allow education professor and 1960s radical William C. Ayers to speak at a university facility. The university had withdrawn an April 5 speaking invitation to Ayers, citing security concerns.
Ayers, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a founder of the radical Weather Underground and has often been painted as unrepentant about activities of the group that included bombing of government buildings. He became an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign because he had ties to Barack Obama.
After the University of Wyoming canceled the April 5 appearance, a student sought to sponsor a talk by Ayers tonight at the university’s sports complex in Laramie. The student, Meghan Lanker, provided an e-mail from university officials saying no campus facility would be available for the speech. Ayers and Lanker sought an injunction, arguing that the university’s actions violated the First Amendment. Lawyers for the student also argued that the university was more concerned about placating alumni and donors who opposed a visit by Ayers.
According to this story today in the Casper Star-Tribune, U.S. District Judge William Downes noted in court yesterday that while Ayers was in the Weather Underground, the judge was serving as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.
“When his group was bombing the U.S. Capitol in 1971, I was serving in the uniform of my country,” the newspaper quoted Downes as saying yesterday. “Even to this day, when I hear that name, I can scarcely swallow the bile of my contempt for it. But Mr. Ayers is a citizen of the United States who wishes to speak, and he need not offer any more justification than that.”
The judge also dismissed the university’s evidence about threats of violence, saying e-mail messages were either veiled and direct or else not threats at all, the newspaper said. The judge granted a preliminary injunction requiring the university to permit Ayers to speak at the sports complex tonight.
A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.