PROVO — Some Brigham Young University students were surprised Thursday night when they came to attend a free-speech forum that was canceled because the meeting was not authorized.

The forum, organized by 18-year-old freshman Pace Ellesworth, was originally intended to feature a screening of the controversial documentary "This Divided State," followed by a discussion about free speech on the BYU campus. Ellesworth said he planned the forum more than a week ago, but he had not alerted the dean or the department chair.

"It should have been done and we didn't know how to do it," Ellesworth said. "We were acting on ignorance. We were just acting blindly and I kind of threw things together all by myself."

Ellesworth said he began thinking about organizing the forum two months ago for a political science honors class he was taking. He said the items of discussion for the canceled forum were not related to a recent protest at BYU spurred by the firing of a professor who wrote a letter to the school's newspaper concerning the lack of transparency in student government and elections.

"This is not a protest," Ellesworth said. "This is not a response to anything, but I really got fueled to start working hard on the free-speech forum because of what happened."

Ellesworth said his professor helped him organize a booth to advertize the event, as well as get the forum approved, but there was some confusion about how to receive the approval.

Ellesworth's professor was out of town at a work conference when members of the political science department found out about the forum Wednesday night and raised questions about its approval, said David Magleby, dean of the college of Family, Home and Social Sciences at BYU. The department informed Ellesworth that the forum had not been approved through the proper channels and that the documentary "This Divided State" was not approved to be screened at BYU.

"We talk about free speech all the time," Magleby said. "We care a lot about free speech, but we don't show films that have content that is contrary to LDS standards."

Magleby said the documentary was objectionable because of offensive language.

Steven Greenstreet, director of "This Divided State," a documentary about Michael Moore's much-debated visit to Utah Valley State College in 2004, said he was disappointed that the forum was canceled.

"It's great for BYU students to have this kind of free speech, and I'm kind of frightened by this action," Greenstreet said. "I don't see any reason why this would be canceled. I think it's really unfair and really disturbing."

In response to the cancellation, Greenstreet, a former BYU student, funneled students who came to watch the forum to another empty classroom, where he showed his documentary and a discussion took place. Approximately 20 students, some of whom participated in last week's protest, watched the film and ate "freeze peach" ices in honor of the subject matter.

Other students saw signs indicating the forum was canceled and left, appearing confused about the late change.


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