CASPER, Wyo. — A judge who served as a Marine in Vietnam ruled Tuesday the University of Wyoming must allow William Ayers to speak on campus, but also expressed disdain for an anti-war group co-founded by the former radical that claimed responsibility in the 1960s for a series of nonfatal bombings.
U.S. District Judge William Downes issued his ruling, saying a free society must both exercise and guarantee free speech rights.
"I can scarcely swallow the bile of my contempt" for the Weather Underground, the judge said. "But the fact is Mr. Ayers is a citizen of the United States who wishes to speak, and he need not offer any more justification than that."
Ayers, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, co-founded the Weather Underground during the Vietnam War era.
The university had cited safety concerns in not allowing him to speak at a campus event Wednesday. But Downes said that the threats of violence the university reported receiving were too vague to warrant denying Ayers' right to speak on campus.
Ayers will now speak Wednesday at UW about free speech at the invitation of student Meg Lanker.
Lanker said after the decision Tuesday that free speech is "alive" at UW. During Monday's hearing, an attorney for Ayers and Lanker said security concerns were overblown and the university was more worried about losing donations.
The university issued a statement saying it will comply with the court's order and will provide appropriate security.
"The heart of the issue was whether as president of the university, I can cancel a speaking engagement if I believe there are overriding safety concerns for the university community," UW President Tom Buchanan said in a prepared statement.
Bryan Profaizer, president of a conservative student group at the university, said he expected some effort to organize a protest of Ayers.
"To what magnitude, I don't know at this point," Profaizer said.
Ayers originally was invited to speak at the university in Laramie on April 5 by the privately endowed UW Social Justice Research Center. But the center's director canceled the event after the invitation drew hundreds of protests.
Lanker then extended an invitation to Ayers to speak at the school, but the university refused to rent out a sports complex for the event. Lanker and Ayers filed a lawsuit against the school, saying it violated their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly.
President Barack Obama served with Ayers on the board of a Chicago charity before becoming president. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, made the connection an issue, accusing Obama of "palling around with terrorists."
Obama has condemned Ayers' radical activities, and there's no evidence they were ever close friends or that Ayers advised Obama on policy.
In the 1960s, the Weather Underground claimed responsibility for a series of bombings that included nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.
Ayers was a fugitive for years before surrendering in 1980. Charges against him were later dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.
Other universities have canceled Ayers speeches recently, including the University of Nebraska and Boston College. He's also been confronted by protesters at other appearances. However, Ayers testified Monday the Wyoming case is the first time he has filed a lawsuit against a college for denying him the right to speak.