Brigham Young University Students Protest Cheney's Upcoming Commencement Speech

The signs were louder than the voices.

Three weeks before a commencement speech by Vice President Dick Cheney, more than 200 protesters held a quiet rally Wednesday at Brigham Young University under strict rules set by the school, which is owned by the Mormon church.

Stay in the designated area. No shouting. No bullhorns. No baiting the Cheney supporters.

So the critics, mostly students, held signs that said: "America One Nation Under Surveillance," "Faithful Mormons Against Cheney" and "Corruption Is Not A Partisan Issue."

They passed out leaflets that slammed Cheney's support for the Iraq war, the U.S. methods of prisoner interrogation and the vice president's ties to his former employer, Halliburton Co.

"These students have been very responsible," BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said. "This shows the civil dialogue that takes place on this campus."

Cheney will be the commencement speaker April 26 at BYU, a conservative school owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The invitation from Mormon church officials has drawn criticism from some students and faculty who claim the school is showing a partisan stripe despite church insistence it has no allegiance to any political party.

Campus Democrats were granted space for a two-hour protest Wednesday. About 100 yards away, Cheney supporters in blue shirts passed out brownies and asked students to sign a letter thanking the vice president. They got 400 names in 40 minutes.

"He's not going to use it as a political forum," senior Bob Reese of Kaysville said of the commencement speech. "He's an example of success."

Campus security officers wearing business suits and earpieces watched both groups and confiscated signs that didn't meet the rules, including one that had pictures of Cheney, Mormon church President Gordon B. Hinckley and others.

"One of these things just doesn't belong," the sign said.

When the event was over, school officials confiscated all signs and told students they could pick them up off campus if they wanted them, Jenkins said.

Macrae McDermott, a sophomore from Bountiful, was among 150 people inside the anti-Cheney zone. She distributed leaflets as students passed.

"We're hoping people will step in and say, 'Maybe these people have a point,"' McDermott said. "I think that political dialogue is essential. I may go against the norm, but I have my convictions."

A retired English professor, Paul Thomas, was among the protesters. His sign read, "Cheney, Tutor To Our Worst President Ever."

"I'm here to support the students. ... It's not just Republican," Thomas said of BYU.

Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride declined to comment on the dueling campus gatherings.

"The vice president is looking forward to visiting Utah," she said from Washington.