Thursday, January 16, 2020

Conservative commentator’s appearance canceled, triggering free speech fight

The decision to cancel a conservative columnist’s appearance at an event hosted by the University of Maine College Republicans has drawn criticism on social media as infringing on free speech rights.

Michelle Malkin – a former Fox News contributor, conservative columnist and author who has expressed anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views – was scheduled to speak at the Portland Sheraton at Sable Oaks in South Portland Friday.

“Mission accomplished, cowardly free speech hater,” Malkin tweeted Tuesday in response to a tweet urging people to call the hotel and ask them to cancel the event. “I hear you got an assist from Univ. of Maine officials, too. Taxpayers should know their $ is being used for cancel culture campaigns against #AmericaFirst students and speakers.”

Blair Mathisen, the front desk supervisor at the hotel, said the event was canceled, but he couldn’t comment further on why or who made the decision.

Jeremiah Childs, a student at the University of Maine and organizer of the event, said in an email Tuesday that the university “called and threatened the hotel we were hosting.”

He said he is working on finding a new venue and the event “will happen no matter what.”

The university said in a statement that it did not pressure the hotel into canceling the talk.

“The freedom of expression, assembly, and the free exchange of ideas are rights that are protected in university policy for all UMaine students,” Dan Demeritt, a spokesman for the university, said in the statement.

He said the University of Maine College Republicans is no longer an official student group as its account was deactivated last fall after the group lost its faculty adviser.

“As a result any event hosted by these students would not be an official university function,” Demeritt said. “The university communicated that status in response to questions about an event that had been scheduled by UMaine students at the Portland Sheraton at Sable Oaks, but did not suggest that the event be canceled.”

In a telephone interview Tuesday night, Malkin said she was told by hotel management that a university official was among those who called to try and convince them to cancel the event.

In October the university condemned recent posts on the group’s private Facebook page, including a Columbus Day post that said indigenous societies discovered by Christopher Columbus “were corrupted by rampant ritual sacrifice and cannibalism.”


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