Judge Says West Point Military Academy Can Ban Anti-War Protest

Submitted by tnjp on May 20, 2007 - 6:19pm.

AP: Federal judge - West Point military academy can ban anti-war protest at graduation Published: May 18, 2007
WHITE PLAINS, New York: A federal judge said Friday that the U.S. Army's military academy at West Point can refuse to let outsiders on campus for an anti-war demonstration during Vice President Cheney's commencement speech.

The Democratic Alliance of Orange County and several individuals had asked District Judge Charles Brieant to intervene after the military school's garrison commander turned down their request for a 1,000-person permit for next Saturday morning.

The commander, Brian Crawford, said in a written statement that protests had never been allowed on the grounds and could be "inconsistent with the military mission and can detract from the good order, discipline, security, morale or loyalty of the soldiers."

The would-be protesters argued that Cheney is likely to speak in support of the war in Iraq and they should be allowed to express an opposing view.

In a ruling issued Friday after a one-day trial, Brieant found that West Point's security concerns, complicated by the presence of the vice president and the graduating cadets' guests, were reasonable despite the protesters' peaceful record in recent protests held outside the gates.

Michael Sussman, a founder of the protest group, said Brieant's decision would be appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and arguments would be heard in Manhattan on Wednesday or Thursday.

"The fact that we oppose the war does not make us a security risk," he said. He called West Point's security concerns "overblown."

Brieant said in the ruling that the group's assurance of lawfulness "overlooks the fact that opposition to the war in Iraq has intensified greatly in recent months; that expected counter-demonstrations outside the gate may interact with the group in a hostile manner, or that participants in political 'dirty tricks' may seek to infiltrate the march for the purpose of causing trouble."

He also said that since the protesters' own proposed line of march would keep them half a mile away from the graduation ceremonies, there was no reason to believe the protest "would gain any greater notoriety, attention or dissemination of ideas" than a demonstration outside the gates.

Brieant stressed that he was deciding the case mostly on security grounds and was skeptical of West Point's claim that "a blanket prohibition on political speech at a military installation is constitutional."

"Graduation Day at West Point has always been, and will likely continue to be, a bully pulpit for political incumbents," the judge noted.

West Point is the colloquial name for the U.S. Military Academy, founded in 1802 to train officers for the U.S. Army. West Point cadets receive free tuition in exchange for at least five years of active-duty service and three years in the reserves.

The school is located at West Point, a scenic overlook of the Hudson River.

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