Pence canceled as commencement speaker at small Wisconsin college as ‘escalating’ unrest in Kenosha raises fears

Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee has canceled plans to have US Vice President Mike Pence give its commencement address on Saturday, citing concerns over violent Black Lives Matter protests and riots in nearby Kenosha.

“After further review with careful consideration of the escalating events in Kenosha, the WLC Board of Regents and the college’s administration have jointly decided to present a different speaker,” Wisconsin Lutheran said Thursday.

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The Rev. Mark Jeske, pastor of Milwaukee’s St. Marcus Church, will instead give the speech to Wisconsin Lutheran’s graduating students in an outdoor ceremony. The small college of about 1,200 students had already faced some backlash for scheduling Pence as its commencement speaker. More than 200 current and former students last week signed an open letter renouncing the decision to invite Pence, saying the vice president is part of an “incredibly divisive and controversial” administration and has “failed to promote policies that reflect Christian values.”

Safety concerns, rather than politics, may have been the driving force in the decision to disinvite Pence. Deadly riots have been raging in Kenosha, about 40 miles south of Milwaukee, since police shot a black man seven times in the back last Sunday. It’s not difficult to imagine protesters targeting a graduation ceremony featuring a high-profile member of the Trump administration who has decried the violent protests in Kenosha.

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Nevertheless, Fox News host Laura Ingraham blasted the college’s decision on Twitter, saying “Democrats’ new rules include free speech for the rioters, but not for conservatives like the vice president.”

Other Twitter users countered that canceling Pence’s address wasn’t an issue of free speech, inasmuch as the college is a private institution that can freely choose the speaker it hosts. “Laura definitely knows what ‘private’ means and understands that this isn’t a free speech issue,” journalist Pete Keeley tweeted. “She just doesn’t respect you enough to think you do as well.” 

Another commenter said: “Maybe they did not want more fuel on the fire. Simmer down.”

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