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US university cancels ‘Today Charlottesville, Tomorrow Texas A&M’ Sept 11 event

A sign at a makeshift memorial for last weekend's Charlottesville tragedy. Source: Reuters/Justin Ide.

Texas A&M University has announced on Monday the Sept 11 event will not take place for the safety risks it posed.

In a statement, the university said it made the decision after consulting law enforcement and considerable study, citing concerns over the safety of its campus community.

“After consultation with law enforcement and considerable study, Texas A&M is cancelling the event scheduled by Preston Wiginton at Rudder Plaza on campus on Sept 11 because of concerns about the safety of its students, faculty, staff and the public,” the statement read.

The organiser, Wiginton, is a former Texas A&M student, Washington Post notes. The September 11 event will be focused on protesting “the liberal agenda of White Guilt and white genocide that is taught at most all universities in America” as well as against specific Texas A&M professors, according to Wiginton’s press release, as noted by Texas Tribune.

Members of white nationalists clash against a group of counter-protesters in the Charlottesville tragedy last weekend. Source: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

According to school policies, no outside individual or group can reserve campus facilities sans the sponsorship from a group sanctioned by the university. Wiginton is neither sponsored nor invited by any of Texas A&M’s 1,200-plus organisations, hence his decision to hold his event at Rudder Plaza, which is located in the middle of campus during a school day.

Wiginton also sent a notification to the media with the headline “Today Charlottesville, Tomorrow Texas A&M”, a move which the university says poses “major security risk” to its campus, in addition to disrupting classes as well as the school’s bus and pedestrian systems.

One counter-protester died while 19 others were injured when a Nazi sympathiser smashed his car into the crowd at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.

According to an Inside Higher Ed report earlier this year, schools have a high burden to prove claims an event is threatening public safety and thus, curtailing students and attendees’ freedom of expression and assembly.

“Legal experts and academics say public colleges and universities need to prove a real threat and meet a high standard of proof before invoking student and attendee welfare as a reason to curtail expression protected by the First Amendment,” read the report.

Texas A&M says it is in full support of the First Amendment rights, which guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. However, it said  “circumstances and information relating to the event have changed and the risks of threat to life and safety compel us to cancel the event.”

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education executive director Robert Shibley says it will be hard for Texas A&M to prove Wiginton’s press release was a “threat of violence” given the rally is more than a month away and that there isn’t an “obvious” significance to the press release’s headline

“Generally, when we’re talking about shutting down speech because of threats of violence, it has to be an imminent threat of violence that is also likely to occur,” Shibley told NPR.

However, he noted there could be more than what Texas A&M has made public from its consultations with law enforcement.

“One of the important things when you’re looking at this is to recognise sometimes law enforcement does have information the rest of us aren’t privy to,” Shibley said.

“But if they’re using that to make decisions, then they’ll have to explain what that information was … if not to the public, then certainly if they’re challenged in court.”

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