David Lane threatens to sue University of Wyoming over refusal to let Weather Underground founder William Ayers speak on campus
And now, he's taken on another cause that's right up his alley: an attempt by the University of Wyoming to prevent an on-campus speech by William Ayers, a founder of the radical '60s-era group the Weather Underground, and a figure in Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.
Lane has sent the University of Wyoming a letter, on view below, demanding that Ayers be allowed to speak. The missive states that if permission isn't granted by noon tomorrow, Lane will sue the university. Does that mean paperwork would be filed by the next day? "That would be nice," he says.
Ayers had been invited to speak about education and social justice issues on March 29 by UW's Social Justice Research Center, but university president Tom Buchanan nixed that, reportedly arguing that giving him a platform would diminish the public's confidence in the institution.
In Lane's view, that should have been an invitation for a fight. However, he notes, "this group, completely lacking in, shall we say, backbone, caved when various administration types began to wring their hands and cluck their tongues, and disinvited him."
Lane says this decision disappointed many students at the school, including Meg Lanker, who wanted to hear what Ayers had to say.
"Meg went through all the channels, but they told her, 'Nope, he's not coming to Wyoming,' also known as Cheneyville," Lane says.
This declaration naturally piqued Lane's interest. After all, he's been down this road before with aforementioned client Churchill.
"Back in 2005, when the shit was hitting the fan at CU" regarding the school's investigation of alleged academic misconduct, he says, "Churchill was scheduled to give a speech at the UMC on campus, and the university said 'no.'" Lane's response: "We filed a complaint in federal district court seeking injunctive relief and an order making CU let him speak. And they caved literally on the front steps of the court house at 4 p.m. on the afternoon of the 7 p.m. speech."
In the end, Churchill was able to share his opinions, and Lane believes Ayers should be allowed to do so as well, even if the university complains about security issues attendant to his appearance. "The law has already dealt with that issue," he allows. "The law has said the government's job when confronting security risks based on free speech is to provide more security, not less free speech."
When asked about the odds of Wyoming backing down by his deadline, Lane says, "It's always a political decision for these folks. And politically, they'd probably rather have a federal judge order them to let him speak on campus than to appear to support the First Amendment."
Here's Lane's letter:
April 12, 2010
Ms. Susan Weidel, Esq. University of Wyoming VIA EMAIL Weidel@uwyo.edu
Re: Meg Lanker and William Ayers v. University of Wyoming
Dear Ms. Weidel:
I have been retained by Ms. Meg Lanker a student at the University of Wyoming, and Mr. William Ayers regarding your email earlier today to Ms. Lanker in which you stated as follows:
Pursuant to our telephone conversation, the University of Wyoming will not be available as a venue for the event you are hosting for Mr. William Ayers.
Having represented Professor Ward Churchill against the University of Colorado in a similar circumstance, it is my belief -- and that of every court which has heard similar cases -- that your action is violative of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. You are prohibiting Mr. Ayers from speaking in a public forum commonly used for such purposes and you are preventing those interested members of the student body and community at large from hearing his message based solely upon the content of that message. As you undoubtedly know, the government is not permitted to censor free speech based upon its content.
If you do not permit Mr. Ayers to speak on campus in the same forum normally used for such purposes, I will proceed to file suit against the University of Wyoming in the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming. I am confident that the court will rule for free speech and against repression.
If I have not heard from you by high noon MDT, April 14th we will proceed to file.
David A. Lane
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.