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While William Downes was a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, William Ayers was bombing U.S. government buildings as co-founder of a militant anti-war group called the Weather Underground. Downes, now a U.S. district judge, made special note of those contrasting backgrounds when he ruled Tuesday against the University of Wyoming's decision to ban Ayers from speaking on campus.
Downes delivered his ruling Tuesday afternoon in his federal courtroom in Casper, after hearing more than five hours of testimony Monday. The judge, finding that UW had violated Ayers' First Amendment rights, issued an injunction sought by Ayers and UW student Meg Lanker forcing UW to allow Ayers to speak Wednesday at the UniWyo Sports Complex on campus in Laramie. Ayers is now scheduled to speak from 7 to 9 p.m. in the sports complex, Lanker said after the ruling.
Downes said the evidence presented during testimony on Monday suggested that UW's decision to ban Ayers from university facilities was inspired by his past association with a "despicable" group, and not the safety concerns university officials repeatedly cited. The judge read an e-mail in which a man said he and others would travel to Laramie to protest Ayers' visit. The university had offered it as an example of threats that prompted a UW attorney to tell Lanker that UW would not be a venue for Ayers' speech. "Where is the threat in that?" Downes asked. "If he and other citizens are concerned and want to assemble, where is the threat?"