We get why Students for USM Future doesn’t want to see state Rep. Larry Lockman at the University of Southern Maine next week, when he’s scheduled to lead a discussion on what he sees as the “alien invasion” of Maine by illegal immigrants. Lockman is an extremist and a provocateur who doesn’t care who’s hurt by his sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic pronouncements, as long as he’s getting attention.

But although Lockman stands for everything we deplore, we can’t support the request that USM’s administration cancel his appearance. Under the First Amendment, all views, no matter how abhorrent, should be heard, and as a citizen, Lockman has the right to express them.

A longtime figure on the Maine political scene, Lockman has spent decades railing against liberal causes such as AIDS education, the pro-choice movement, gay rights, same-sex marriage and school anti-bullying and diversity initiatives.

The extent of Lockman’s extremism became apparent in a 2014 blog post by liberal activist Mike Tipping, who detailed Lockman’s past remarks and made him nationally notorious. And rightfully so, given that Lockman’s assertions included the justification of rape as less destructive than abortion (sexual assault doesn’t usually “result in anyone’s death,” he said) and the linking of AIDS deaths to assurances by “enlightened, tolerant people in politics and in medicine … that the practice of sodomy is a legitimate alternative lifestyle, rather than a perverted, depraved crime against humanity.”

In response to Tipping, Lockman said in a written statement that he regretted the remarks. He didn’t, however, say that he’d changed his mind. So USM audiences can be sure that Lockman – sponsor of a bill that would withhold state funding from communities that give safe haven to illegal immigrants – will go into detail about “the dangers of illegal immigration and Harboring Havens,” as he put it in an email promoting his USM appearance.

But while Lockman’s narrowmindedness and bigotry are valid reasons to protest his USM appearance, they aren’t grounds to ban him. In fact, keeping him off campus would likely play into his hands.

That’s because silencing someone with abhorrent views feeds the perception that they’re victims of an unjust crackdown on truth tellers, while giving them a platform allows them to be debunked and discredited. This may explain the almost buoyant, bring-it-on tone of Lockman’s promotional email, in which he warns: “I fully expect a herd of angry protesters hurling profane insults in my direction, attempting to shut down debate on Maine’s immigration crisis.”

The same Constitution that safeguards the expression of Larry Lockman’s vile ideas also allows those who disagree to fight back with their own words – and if Students for USM Future leverages that opportunity, they’ll be giving Lockman the challenge he deserves instead of the martyrdom he wants.

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