A long-time participant of Montana State University Billings' annual bell ringing ceremony commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day announced Thursday that he wouldn't be taking part this year.
Eran Thompson, who, for years has performed dramatic readings in the community of some of King's more important speeches, told organizers he wouldn't take part after learning that Sen. Steve Daines had been invited by the college to give a recorded message.
"In the year where the murder of George Floyd by police officers sparked demonstrations across our country and after the events of last week, this year feels especially important to highlight the principles of the work of Dr. King," Thompson wrote on his Facebook page.
When Thompson learned of Daines' involvement, he said he approached organizers.
"I asked them to choose me and not air anything that would allow this senator to tell more lies," Thompson wrote. "They have chosen to stand with Sen. Daines and I cannot be a part of allowing any member of the #SeditionCaucus to dishonor the memory of Dr. King."
The "Sedition Caucus" refers to the U.S. senators and representatives who voted, or intended to vote, against certifying the electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden. They have claimed election fraud led to Biden's victory in the presidential election, claims that have been repeatedly debunked by state election officials and rejected by dozens of state and federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Daines earlier in the week had announced he planned to vote against certifying the election, citing questions of fraud. But following the deadly riot and the breach of the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, he released a statement saying he would vote to certify, which he did later that night.
MSUB's bell ringing ceremony is an annual event highlighting the importance of inclusivity and diversity, and often includes representatives of the region's political leaders, community leaders and groups that highlight Billings minority populations.
This year, both Daines and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester were invited to participate and have sent recorded messages. Also participating are Billings Mayor Bill Cole, MSUB's new chancellor, Stefani Hicswa, campus minister Rev. Dwight Welch and MSUB student leaders.
"As a public institution we are very inclusive," said Maureen Brakke, a spokeswoman for the university.
Every year the school extends invitations to elected representatives to participate and this year was no different, she said.
Given the past year's political turbulence and disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers weren't sure what to anticipate for this year's ceremony, Brakke said. The organizers' hope is that the event's message of human rights, social justice and peace "among all people" is what participants take away.