Free and Equal: University of Wisconsin official tries to shut down third party/peace movement forum because Cindy Sheehan is a ‘security’ threat

Press release from Free and Equal:

Leading Voices for Independent Politics Unite for Landmark Event at University of Wisconsin at Madison

University Official Threatens Event Cancellation, Inciting Free Speech Showdown

CHICAGO, Ill., April 25, 2010 – 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 at the university 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.

The event and Vogts’ attempts at cancellation has drawn media attention, and organizers expect the event to be a turning point for the antiwar movement, academic freedom, and free speech.

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.

As part of this event, the Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative will hold a book signing for Theresa Amato and Cindy Sheehan at 2:00 p.m.

About the Panelists

Cindy Sheehan is an American anti-war activist whose son, Specialist Casey Sheehan, was killed on April 4, 2004 while serving in the Iraq War. In August 2005, she attracted national and international media attention for her extended anti-war protest at a makeshift camp outside President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch, a stand which drew both passionate support and angry criticism. She is a vocal critic of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, saying: “I don’t think much has changed since the Bush administration.”

Christina Tobin has devoted her life to protecting the rights of all people to vote and run for office. As Ralph Nader’s national ballot access coordinator in 2008, she has a deep knowledge of not only election laws, but also alternative approaches nationwide. She has helped gather over 500,000 signatures to ensure voters had a choice when they went to cast their vote. She has secured ballot lines for numerous independent candidates and alternative political parties including the Constitution, Democratic, Green, Libertarian, Republican and Socialist Equality parties. Tobin is founder and chair of The Free and Equal Elections Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, public policy and advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the rights of the politically marginalized and disenfranchised, particularly third party and independent voters and candidates. She also serves as the CEO of Free & Equal, Inc., a ballot access consulting and petitioning firm. Tobin is the Libertarian candidate for California secretary of state.

Theresa Amato served as national campaign manager and in-house counsel for Ralph Nader in his 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns. She is the author of Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny. In her new book, she provides a witty, thoughtful critique of the American electoral system. A graduate of Harvard University and NYU School of Law, she is the founder of the Citizen Advocacy Center. Amato lives in Oak Park, Illinois and is a mother and practicing lawyer.

Angela Keaton is the development director for Antiwar.com the Web’s leading source of antiwar news, views, and activities and the producer of the Scott Horton Show for Antiwar Radio. She also serves the national secretary of Outright Libertarians (GBTLQ caucus) and the chairwoman of the board of directors for the Ladies of Liberty Alliance (LOLA.) From 1999 to 2005, Keaton hosted “The Liberated Space,” the libertarian talk and news show on the controversial KOOP 91.7 FM, Austin. She holds a J.D. and M.A. from the University of Florida.

Ben Manski is an attorney and pro-democracy advocate. He serves as executive director of the Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution, a think-tank and organizing center he founded in 2004. Manski is also a principal attorney at Manski Law & Communications, LLC and an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies. Politically engaged since his early childhood in Israel and Wisconsin, Manski has worked for a variety of causes, notably serving as co-chair of the Green Party of the United States, national director of the Campus Greens USA, and as midwest director for the Nader 2000 campaign. In 2001-2002, he was active on the steering committee that formed the major U.S. peace organization, United for Peace and Justice.

Sean Scallon is an author, journalist, blogger, and elected official in Pepin, Wisconsin. He is the author of Beating the Powers that Be: Independent Political Movements and Parties of the Upper Midwest and Their Relevance for Third Parties of Today. His work has appeared in The American Conservative and Chronicles, and he blogs for The American Conservative and Conservative Heritage Times. Scallon recently published the article Taking Cindy Sheehan to a Tea Party.

About the Moderator

Steve Burns, is the Program Director of Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, a statewide coalition of more than 160 organizations. WNPJ facilitates activities, cooperation and communication among Wisconsin organizations and individuals working toward the creation of a sustainable world, free from violence and injustice.

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