MANSFIELD, OH - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio expressed disappointment and concern over the cancellation of an event to be hosted by the Mansfield North Central Ohio Tea Party Association at Mansfield Senior High School on Monday, March 28, 2011. After consultation with city police, Mansfield City Schools Superintendent Dan Freund withdrew permission for the event over safety concerns on Monday morning. A coalition of advocacy groups opposed to the message of the keynote speaker was scheduled to host a press conference later that afternoon.
The scheduled speaker was Usama Dakdok, and the Tea Party described his talk as “reveal[ing] the ways we are not just losing our freedoms, but that we are surrendering them to our enemy, radical Islam.” Civil rights groups claimed Dakdok’s message was anti-Islam and divisive.
“While we might disagree with the message of the speaker, they have a right like any other group to fully air their views, without interference by government officials. Public officials – Sheriff and Superintendent included, have a duty to provide a safe venue for all speakers. Shutting down an event because some individual or group does not like the message is dangerous to a free society and the democratic process,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link.
“Those offended by the message of this group or any other must instead answer offensive speech with more speech, not suppression,” added Link. “Now is the time for groups protesting the speaker to amplify their message, not shut down their opponent.”
The Tea Party is scheduled to host several future events at Mansfield High School including a mayoral candidate’s forum and a rally in commemoration of the founding of the Tea Party movement. Superintendent Freund did not comment on whether future Tea Party events would be cancelled at the high school, but did suggest officials will be reexamining the school’s policy on outside groups using facilities.
“Shutting down the venue for one speech does not eliminate the message. Censorship is counterproductive for all groups, as it lays the groundwork for the government to suppress future messages of the very groups protesting. Speech must be protected for all or ultimately it will be available to no one,” Link concluded.