Grand Forks Councilman Summons Theater Owners To A Meeting Over Controversial Anti-Islam Speaker

UPDATE: Per KNOX radio host Ryan Cunningham, “No one from the Empire Arts Center will attend today’s meeting.” He adds that “The EAC has invited Bret Weber to their noon meeting next Wednesday to speak his piece, and that meeting will be open to the media.”

At the University of Jamestown earlier this week campus officials moved a controversial event about religion and homosexuality off of campus after they got complaints. The event was moved to a church, in cooperation with event organizers, but that the move had to happen at all doesn’t speak very highly for the state of free speech on that campus.

Now, in Grand Forks, the owners of a theater which was recently host to a controversial anti-Islam speaker have been summoned to a meeting by a member of the city council who wants to “clearly express that this is an inclusive and welcoming community.”

Inclusive and welcoming, I guess, except for controversial viewpoints. Oh, and by the way, the meeting on inclusiveness doesn’t include the media:

City Council member Bret Weber says bigotry should not be part of the Grand Forks community.

So in response to an anti-Islam, Christian speaker being scheduled to speak at the Empire Arts Center Thursday, Weber wrote an email to the Empire’s director and other local leaders calling for an informal meeting today to consider “efforts to clearly express that this is an inclusive and welcoming community.” …

“We must guard against any sense that bigotry is somehow endorsed by our community—we do not want to have Dakdok’s name become a part of our brand,” Weber wrote in his email, obtained by the Herald Thursday. “(Dakdok’s) name should not be associated with the brand of our city, of our downtown, of UND or of the Empire.”

Weber, who is also a social work professor at UND, said he hopes to facilitate a conversation as to how Grand Forks should handle intolerance and form its brand as a welcoming community.

The meeting today is not open to media, Weber said, because he wants attendees to feel comfortable speaking freely. In his email, Weber asked for recipients to “please feel free to share this message broadly, though not with the press at this time.”

If Weber wants Grand Forks to seem an “inclusive and welcoming” community, then perhaps he should start by including and welcoming even controversial speech he disagrees with.

Because that’s the true challenge of living in a society. It’s easy to welcome people and viewpoints you like, or are at least ambivalent about. It is much harder to welcome people/viewpoints that you dislike. This Dakdok person seems to hold a paranoid and hateful view of Islam. Personally, I find that unfortunate. More unfortunate is the reaction by Weber, an elected member of the local government, to Dakdok’s speech.

Weber says he doesn’t want Dakodok “associated with the brand of our city,” and yet all Dakdok did was speak in Grand Forks. Who appointed Weber the gatekeeper to what can and cannot be said in the City of Grand Forks?

Mr. Weber, I think, is more a threat to the Grand Forks “brand” (if there is one) than Dakdok. Dakdok is just an angry, paranoid public speaker. Weber, on the other hand, is a member of the governing body of Grand Forks and clearly has a low opinion of free speech rights.

This isn’t about what Dakok had to say. That’s irrelevant. This is an elected official using his position to try and intimidate those providing a venue to provocative and controversial events.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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