BOISE -- The Riverside Hotel canceled the Idaho Freedom Foundation's annual banquet, citing concerns for guest safety surrounding the keynote speaker. But the foundation says the left is trying to stifle free speech and ideas.
The "Faces of Freedom Banquet" was supposed to happen at the Riverside Hotel August 26. But after hearing of possible protests online - and in the wake of the violent incidents in Charlotesville - hotel owners told the conservative group that could no longer happen.
The Idaho Freedom Foundation touts conservative principles, limited government, free markets and self-reliance. Their stated mission is to "hold public servants and government programs accountable, expose government waste and cronyism, reduce the Idaho’s dependency on the federal government and inject fairness and predictability into the state’s tax system".
That's exactly why they asked libertarian scholar Dr. Charles Murray to be the guest speaker at their annual banquet.
"We think he is a great public speaker, he has a great message a great story to tell. And we think public policies he espouses would actually improve the lives of Idahoans," Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman told KTVB.
The name might ring a bell: Murray was the co-author of one of the most controversial books of the 1990's: "The Bell Curve." Critics called it racist because it talked about possible differences in intelligence between races.
Over the years, the conservative scholar has faced backlash and protests at speaking events across the nation.
"There are some folks who are left of center who don't like him and they protested him and they've tried to shut down his speeches," Hoffman added.
The most notable occurred in March: Several hundred protested his lecture at Middlebury College in Vermont and confrontations that ensued with an angry, aggressive mob as he tried to leave campus.
Riverside Hospitality partners (investors who own the Riverside Hotel) say they saw a lot of chatter online over the last week about protests in the works during the banquet. So they dug up background on Murray, the target of those planned protests.
"After seeing many many recent examples of protests and riots at Charles Murray's events across the country, we knew an incident would be more than likely. And we just simply couldn't take the chance," partner Kristen Jensen told KTVB. "And the decision was based solely on our responsibility for staff and guest safety, and was certainly not politically motivated or influenced."
Especially in light of the tragic clashings in Charlottesville over the weekend, with heightened sensitivity across the country and in our community.
"Charlottesville itself didn't necessarily influence our decision. However, the increased sensitivity of the people in the nation and in our community certainly did. The likelihood of a chaotic incident unfolding at this event went up significantly after Charlottesville happened," Jensen added.
"There's no threat to public safety, no threat to the guests," Hoffman said. "The only threat there is is to people who don't like Charles Murray's ideas and they don't like the idea of people being able to share their own opinions and ideas."
Hoffman argues the hotel was getting pressure from the left, who didn't agree with the speakers' views and public policies and wanted to shut down free speech.
"They wanted to stop Charles Murray from giving his speech, they wanted to stop us from holding our event, and they wanted to stop the free exchange of ideas," Hoffman told KTVB. "They work tirelessly to cajole them and frighten them and ridicule them into shutting the event down. And that's what happened here."
We asked Jensen whether she received pressure from people because of Murray's views. She told us, "not at all. That is absolutely not true."
The Faces of Freedom Banquet is still on for August 26 and was moved to Chateau des Fleurs in Eagle.
The Riverside Hotel is actually helping foot the bill and paid the new venue a $10,000 deposit to cover the foundation's expenses.
"We understood that it was going to create a big disruption for them and of course that's never our goal. So we wanted to make sure that we could make it right," Jensen added.