The show will go on.
This week, after Al Franken was accused by a ninth woman of sexual harassment, two members of the King County Council called for the cancelation of an event with the former senator on Friday in Seattle, which is being produced by the local non-profit Seattle Theatre Group (STG).
In a letter sent to STG Executive Director Josh LaBelle Tuesday, King County Council Members Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Joe McDermott wrote, "STG, an organization we hold in highest regard, should not be associated with Al Franken... Please cancel the Mr. Franken event on Friday."
On Wednesday, STG, which receives funds from the county, declined to acquiesce to the council members' demands.
"After discussions with Mr. Franken and his representatives, Friday’s event will go on as scheduled," said the group in a statement. "STG values the perspectives of all of its patrons, and we have heard many different views about this appearance. Any current ticket holders that do not want to attend, may request a refund at their point of purchase."
LaBelle, the executive director, responded as well. "STG feels that allegations of sexual harassment are serious," he said. "We also acknowledge that our role as a performing arts venue is to present a platform for freedom of expression and speech to take place. We hope events like these will contribute to an ongoing dialogue that will be beneficial for our community."
PRAISE THEM. No matter how you feel about Al Franken, it is not the role of the government to legislate who adults are permitted to see. Oddly, King County Council Member Jeanne Kohl-Welles seems to realize this. In a phone interview, she told me, "I would never want to deny people if they bought tickets and want to go." And yet, she still pressured STG to cancel. This isn't just some weird cognitive dissonance, I believe it's a blatantly unconstitutional act on the part of an elected official. And the ACLU agrees.
“Allegations of sexual harassment are a serious issue and we recognize the intent to support the brave women who step forward. But the government cannot do so by pressuring private venues to shut down certain speakers,” said Emily Chiang, ACLU of Washington's legal director. “The First Amendment is designed to protect against government singling out speech it does not like—and trying to suppress that speech before it even happens would be an impermissible prior restraint. The government should not be in the business of picking and choosing who can and cannot speak.”
Agreed. If you're interested in seeing Al Franken, there are still tickets available. Perhaps you'll run into the council members standing outside the venue in protest.