KANSAS CITY, Missouri — A man arrested during a public forum at a Kansas City library has filed a lawsuit alleging his free speech rights were violated when he was kicked out of the event for asking challenging questions about Israel.
Jeremy Rothe-Kushel, 39, filed the federal lawsuit on Thursday over his May 2016 arrest by private security guards and off-duty police officers. The incident occurred during a question-and-answer segment of a talk by Middle East expert and diplomat Dennis Ross, The Kansas City Star reports.
A video of the event shows Rothe-Kushel asking: “When are we going to stand up and be ethical Jews and Americans?” He was standing at the microphone and speaking quietly when a guard grabbed him and he shouted, “Get your hands off of me right now!”
Steve Woolfolk, the Kansas City Library’s director of programming and marketing, also was arrested while trying to stop Rothe-Kushel’s arrest. He was acquitted last year of several municipal charges. Charges were dropped against Rothe-Kushel, whose attorney describes him as a peaceful critic of Israel.
The library’s executive director, R. Crosby Kemper III, has sharply criticized city officials for persisting in their prosecution, saying they were violating the First Amendment.
Defendants in Rothe-Kushel’s lawsuit include police employees and the event’s co-sponsors. Kansas City police spokeswoman Sgt. Kari Thompson said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
The arrests occurred as Ross spoke at the inaugural Truman and Israel Lecture, established by the Truman Library Institute and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City.
Security isn’t usually hired at such events, but the Jewish Community Foundation asked to hire private and off-duty police security for Ross.
But as the date of the event approached, conflicting understandings emerged as to the role of security. The lawsuit alleges that library officials said security should not remove any audience member for voicing an unpopular opinion, but the other co-sponsors advised security to remove any protesters.
“Our personally held rights to peaceably assemble, speak freely, and record and publish our understandings are the foundation of our nation’s traditions of self-governance and rule of law,” Rothe-Kushel, who lives in Lawrence, Kansas, said in a written statement. “We must vigorously practice, preserve, protect and defend them.”
Last year, the American Library Association gave the Kansas City library the Paul Howard Award for Courage. Woolfolk, the library official arrested during the event, received the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity.