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Free-speech rights at Games highlighted

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For some, the Olympics stand for personal excellence and world unity. For others, they represent politics, commercialism and, in light of the rodeo, apparent cruelty.

Three speakers at the University of Utah affirmed the right to express these views at the Olympics.

Larry Gerlach, history professor at the U., acknowledged the difficulty in balancing security with the right of free speech. But the concept of protest zones was flawed, he said, because the zones were too remote to be seen by the crowds, and demonstrators would be "preaching to the choir."

Gerlach said the zones would also compromise the right of people to hear the protests. People can then choose whether to listen, debate or walk away from the issues, he said.

Cori Sutherland, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, talked about the ACLU's efforts to ensure free speech at the Olympics, "Something that should be a 'duh' but isn't," she said.

The ACLU offers a guide for protesters and will have neutral legal observers document what happens at protests.

Sutherland said while there are some valid restrictions on free speech, there is no right to be sequestered from opinions simply because you may disagree with them. Games security is important, but, she said, it is ludicrous to think that permit-carrying protesters are more dangerous than the thousands of spectators.

Sean Diener, executive director of Utah Animal Rights Coalition, said protests are a necessary part of societal change that have served the country since people threw tea overboard to protest taxation.

E-mail: ajacobs@desnews.com