Student government leaders at the University of Southern Maine met Friday with the university’s president and agreed that they should not take a stand for or against a controversial state lawmaker’s upcoming public appearance on campus.

Still, the students expressed concerns about campus safety during the speech and an anticipated protest that is expected to include students who were arrested during a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland last summer.

Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, will lead a discussion titled “Alien Invasion: Fixing the Immigrant Crisis,” on Thursday from 7-8 p.m. at USM’s Wishcamper Center in Portland. Lockman was invited to speak by a student group at USM called Young Americans for Freedom. Lockman has drawn criticism for his statements about gays, rape and abortion.

Among Lockman’s past statements is that the progressive movement exacerbated the AIDS epidemic by assuring “the public that the practice of sodomy is a legitimate alternative lifestyle, rather than a perverted and depraved crime against humanity.”

Another group, Students for USM Future, has called on the school administration to cancel the speaking engagement. It accused Young Americans for Freedom of being “proponents of virulent hate speech.”

Attempts to reach both student groups were unsuccessful Friday night.

Lockman is the sponsor of a bill, L.D. 366, that seeks to ensure that state and local governments comply with federal immigration law. His bill proposes withholding state funding from communities that provide safe haven for illegal immigrants.

USM President Glenn Cummings said Friday that the university will not cancel Lockman’s speech.

“I truly understand your deep concern, and agree that Rep. Lockman’s point of view is offensive and repulsive,” Cummings said in a statement to students who have expressed concern about the event. “But suppression of free speech is never the answer.”

USM Student Senate Vice Chair Muna Adan and student body President Humza Khan met with Cummings on Friday to discuss concerns about Lockman’s appearance. However, Adan and Khan told the Portland Press Herald that they agree with Cummings’ free speech argument.

“He said we should respect the freedom of speech,” Khan said. “I agree with that, as well.”

Adan said that after discussing the matter among themselves and with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, student leaders decided not to side with either the students who invited Lockman or those who oppose his visit.

“As a whole, we have decided to stay neutral,” she said. “The right position for us is not to take sides.”

Still, Adan and Khan said some participants in the meeting with Cummings expressed concerns that the clash between Lockman’s supporters and opponents on campus could become violent.

Of particular concern, they said, was that students involved in the Black Lives Matter protest in July were planning to demonstrate against Lockman’s speech.

Adan said some participants in the meeting believed those protesters’ past willingness to violate the law poses an added risk.

“That’s what can lead to violence,” she said.

Seventeen protesters were arrested when they blocked a section of Commercial Street on a busy Friday night in the Old Port. Portland police said the marchers failed to get a permit and discuss their plans with police, unlike a similar protest the week before.

Each of the protesters who was arrested was charged with one count of obstructing a public way. Some also were charged with other offenses, such as disorderly conduct and failure to disperse. Though prosecutors and the marchers later struck a plea deal, that agreement fell through this month and the protesters could end up back in court to face criminal charges.

Lockman’s appearance will come just more than two weeks after a protest at the University of California Berkeley this month against a planned appearance by conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos. The Feb. 1 protest turned violent and resulted in an estimated $100,000 worth of damage. The school canceled the event about two hours before the Breitbart editor was scheduled to speak.

Cummings said USM would help pay for beefed-up security out of its own budget to deter violence and injuries during Lockman’s speech and any protest demonstrations. Young Americans for Freedom also would cover a portion of the security costs, he said. Cummings said the cost to USM would be “a few hundred dollars.”

Cummings said that while he doesn’t want the university to make a habit of paying for additional security to host speakers, he said Lockman’s appearance is being sponsored by a legitimate campus group, and that USM believes student groups should not be required to pay an unreasonable amount to bring in speakers they want to hear.

“Especially in these most difficult times for our nation, freedom of speech must be protected at all costs,” Cummings said. “If we begin to take it away from others, we may end up losing it for ourselves.”

Editor’s note: One of several people arrested last July during a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland said no students involved with that movement are connected to any planned protest of the talk by Lockman.

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to reflect that participants in the meeting between students and administrators expressed concerns about the impact of Black Lives Matter protesters on campus safety.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

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