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Politics

Student Group Calls for USM to Cancel Conservative Lawmaker’s Speech

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A.J. Higgins
/
Maine Public

A group of students at the University of Southern Maine is calling for the cancelation of a planned speech by a conservative Maine lawmaker, but USM’s president says the speech should go forward.

State Rep. Lawrence Lockman, an Amherst Republican, can be provocative. Two years ago he said he regretted statements he’d made decades earlier that had been unearthed by a liberal blogger. In one he equated a woman’s right to an abortion to a man’s right to commit rape. In another he called homosexual sex a “depraved crime against humanity.”

More recently, Lockman has been an outspoken voice for restrictions on immigration to the U.S., and for restricting welfare benefits for immigrants.

At the request of a small, conservative student union, the USM chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, Lockman will deliver a speech next week titled “Alien Invasion: Fixing the Immigrant Crisis” on the Portland campus.

“As long as we have a single veteran who’s not getting the very best care we can provide, or a single elderly or disabled Mainer who has lived here, worked here and paid taxes here all their lives on a wait list for needed services, I’m sorry, noncitizens shouldn’t be getting any public benefits and certainly not anybody who’s in the country illegally. We just have to set priorities,” he says.

But another small student group is calling on the university to cancel the event.

Members did not respond to requests for an interview, but a post on the organization’s Facebook page says Lockman has a history of trying to marginalize vulnerable groups.

“USM will not serve as yet another platform for these proponents of virulent hate speech, no matter their background or political viewpoint,” the post says.

“Right now there is a radical leftist group on campus that is trying to silence us,” says Benjamin Bussiere, president of the Young Americans for Freedom campus chapter and a former member of the student senate.

Bussiere stepped down from that post in November after he was criticized for failing to report the discovery of anti-Muslim graffiti found in a student government office. He says the call to bar Lockman’s speech demonstrates how intolerant progressives can be.

“It shows the hypocrisy of the left. They say, ‘Be inclusive, be tolerant, but as long as it fits our agenda and our message,’” he says.

But Bussiere does have the blessing of USM President Glenn Cummings, a former Democratic speaker of the Maine House and member of the Obama administration, who says Lockman won’t be locked out.

“Rep. Lockman’s views are repugnant to many people in the state and understandably, given some of the things he has said. But shutting down the right to free speech is never the answer,” he says.

The USM administration says Young Americans for Freedom will have to pay for extra security at the Portland event, while Lockman’s supporters and opponents will be expected to keep their disagreements civil.

Mohammed “Humza” Kahn, president of the student body, says security is a concern, but he trusts that the organizers and administration will make sure safety is maintained.

He says he understands that some students are frightened by Lockman’s views.

“But I think we have to allow him on campus because of his freedom of speech, and we have to allow anyone who wants to come to speak. It’s not something you can kind of try to manage,” he says.

A naturalized citizen of Pakistani origin, Kahn says he strongly disagrees with what he knows of Lockman’s views. But he says he won’t be joining any protests. Instead, he plans to attend Lockman’s speech and listen.