Approximately 75 students and community members attended a panel discussion Tuesday about freedom of speech in the context of the controversy over the Danish cartoons of Muhammad. The panelists spoke and took questions from the audience for nearly three hours.
Entitled Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons, the panel event featured speakers Yaron Brook, president and executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute; Tom Flynn, the editor of Free Inquiry magazine; and Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
According to Rebecca Knapp, a fourth-year in the College and vice president of the Objectivist Club, which co-sponsored the event, the organizers also invited members of the campus Muslim community to sit on the panel, but they chose not to participate.
Knapp, who introduced the panelists, said that the Objectivist Club also invited a University professor who specializes in Islamic studies to appear at the event, but she had declined the offer as well.
The event, which featured the 12 controversial cartoons on display at the front of the room, included discussions ranging from the American media response to the cartoons to the consequences of the September 11 attacks.
The panelists began by sharing their general thoughts on the situation. All three speakers expressed disappointment that most American newspapers chose not to reprint the cartoons, saying the press had a right and a responsibility to do so in order to protect free speech.
Our inaction leads to bigger responses from radical Islamists, said Brook, who specializes in Middle Eastern conflict, terrorism, and American foreign policy in the Middle East. Brook added that the American media reacted to the cartoon controversy in a way that was not helpful to the country.
While audience questions and panelist responses became heated at times, the event proceeded without incident.
Several security officers were on hand during the event, and attendees were subject to electronic wand searches and bag searches. Bottles and cans were prohibited in the auditorium. ORCSA staff also provided an additional room where attendees were encouraged to go if they needed a space to process what they heard at the panel.
The panel, held in Kent 107, was partially funded by Student Government and co-sponsored by the Chicago Objectivist Club, the Ayn Rand Institute, and Americans for Informed Democracy. In addition, panel attendees were charged a $2 admission fee.
The panelists have participated in similar events at colleges throughout the country and have been actively involved in defending student groups restricted from showing the Danish cartoons.