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U. Of Wyoming Cites Threats In Barring Ayers

04/25/10 06:59 PM ET   AP

William Ayers

CASPER, Wyo. — The University of Wyoming says it received threats after 1960s radical William Ayers was invited to speak on campus and it should be able to bar him for safety reasons.

The university filed court papers Saturday after it was sued over its refusal to rent its sports complex for a speech Wednesday by the University of Illinois-Chicago education professor. University lawyers submitted affidavits about threats made against Ayers, university staff and alumni after the university initially invited him to speak on campus.

None of the affidavits mentioned specific times when the threats would be carried out, and only one was forwarded to police for investigation. In that case, an e-mailer said the people who invited Ayers to speak should "eat a mouthful of buckshot."

One caller said he and his friends would take care of Ayers "the Cowboy way," according to the documents. In another case, education college dean Kay Persichitte said a man approached her at a supermarket and told her, "You should all be strung up and he (Ayers) should bomb you."

The university's Social Justice Research Center invited Ayers to speak earlier this month but canceled the event after getting hundreds of e-mail and telephone calls opposing his visit. UW student Meg Lanker then invited Ayers to speak, but the university barred him from appearing on campus.

Lanker and Ayers sued, arguing the university was violating First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.

The lawyers for the university, Thomas Rice and Monica Kovaci, argue that the sports complex is a limited public forum and, like private property owners, the university can impose reasonable restrictions on speech. The last time the complex was rented for an event not related to the university or athletics was in March 2008 when former President Bill Clinton spoke, they said.

Ayers and Lanker want a federal judge to intervene, and U.S. District Judge William Downes is scheduled to hold a hearing Monday in Casper. If they lose, Ayers plans to speak off campus at the Laramie Civic Center on Wednesday.

Ayers was a co-founder of Weather Underground, a radical anti-war group that claimed responsibility for a series of bombings, including explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol that didn't kill anyone.

Before Barack Obama was elected president, he served with Ayers on the board of a Chicago charity, and Republican Sen. John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, made it an issue in the 2008 campaign, accusing Obama of "palling around with terrorists."

Obama has condemned Ayers' radical activities, and there's no evidence they ever were close friends or that Ayers advised Obama on policy.

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Filed by Leah Finnegan  |