UW-Stout: Climate justice, musical expression, protest rights to be discussed at upcoming Civil Liberties Symposium

Menomonie, Wis. – The Menard Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation at the University of Wisconsin-Stout is hosting its third annual Civil Liberties Symposium, Monday, April 18.

The symposium, from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. in the Memorial Student Center, Northwoods Room, is free and open to the public. No registration is required.

“The primary goal is to educate people about important civil liberty controversies through civil and rational dialogue from different points of view,” said MCSII Director Tim Shiell. “The presentations will focus on some aspect of civil liberties and their relationship to institutions, especially government and innovation.”

The five presentations will each be followed by a respondent offering comments to add perspectives on the issues.

  • “Climate Justice: The Role of the Courts in Advancing Environmental Rights,” with Elizabeth Wheat, associate professor in public and environmental affairs at UW-Green Bay. Wheat will discuss how some courts have ruled in cases involving conflicts between property rights and environmental protections focusing on how appeals to civil liberty can be an effective way for groups, especially marginalized groups, to protect their environments.
  • “Some Observations on Separation of Powers and the Wisconsin Constitution,” with Chad Oldfather, professor of law at Marquette University. Oldfather will discuss the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches under the Wisconsin Constitution, with special attention to the right to vote and redistricting issues.
  • “I Fought the Law and the First Amendment Won: Rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court Protect Musical Expression,” with Eric Kasper, professor of political science and director of UW-Eau Claire’s Menard Center for Constitutional Studies. Kasper will discuss Supreme Court rulings on legal controversies and censorship involving musical expression. 
  • “Anti-orthodoxy, Inclusion, and the Advocacy of Violence,” with Shiell. He will discuss the role of anti-orthodoxy and inclusion in expressive legal rights with special attention on Brandenburg v. Ohio, with distinction between abstract advocacy of violence and incitement of imminent violence.
  • “A Survey of Anti-Protest Laws Enacted in the Past Two Years,” with Azhar Majeed, director of Government Affairs at the Center for Inquiry, headquartered in Amherst, N.Y. Majeed will discuss recent laws that increase restrictions and penalties for certain forms of protest in the wake of the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests.         

Majeed is looking forward to participating in the symposium. “There’s a lot we can learn from each other about some of the pressing current issues in the field of civil liberties,” he said. “I hope to draw the attention of attendees to the many anti-protest laws that have been passed in states across the country in recent years. These laws are anti-thetical to the First Amendment and a threat to the precious free speech rights of Americans.”

Kasper agrees that the symposium is an excellent opportunity to discuss civil liberties with scholars of different backgrounds. His research connects freedom of speech and the intersection of music and politics. “I hope that attendees will leave my presentation with a greater understanding of the long history of attempts to censor music and why key U.S. Supreme Court First Amendment precedents have been important to legally protecting musical expression in the United States,” he said.

Oldfather has two motivations for studying the Wisconsin constitution and the Wisconsin Supreme Court. “One is a sense that, given the direction the United States Supreme Court is headed, a greater portion of our contentious legal questions are going to be resolved at the state level,” he said. “Another is that Wisconsin constitutional jurisprudence has started to drift, sometimes in dramatic ways, from its history. 

“As an academic, I’ve got the ability to reflect on the law in a way and from a perspective that the justices, and the lawyers who appear before them, do not share, and I hope to be able to leverage that perspective into being a source of useful information.”

MCSII’s mission is to provide leadership on issues pertaining to civil liberty and related institutions and innovations through scholarly inquiry, educational activities and community outreach, including facilitated workshops which engage students in timely and important topics.

MCSII also invites students to apply to participate in the Statewide Student Free Speech Workshop from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 23, at UW-La Crosse. The workshop is open to 24 students. To apply, email Shiell. Applications should include a maximum 250-word statement of interest in the area of campus free speech. Deadline to apply is Friday, April 15. Students who complete the workshop receive a $250 stipend.

UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.