The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) reversed its decision Friday to charge the Bruin Republicans student group security fees to have conservative speaker Ben Shapiro speak at the school November 13th.
“Given UCLA’s commitment to free speech, and to avoid any appearance to the contrary,” said campus spokesman Tod Tamberg. “UCLA has decided to also pay the basic security costs for this event. UCLA will be adopting this approach going forward while it reviews its current policy to ensure that it continues to be a useful planning tool for UCLA and registered student organizations.”
The school had cited a largely dormant policy that the group must pay security fees if more than 30 percent of those in attendance at the event come from outside the campus.
Their reversal came four days after Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent UCLA a letter arguing that their policy was applied unevenly and was placing an unconstitutional barrier to the student group’s speech.
“Instead of applying the policy as written, the University exercises complete discretion in deciding whether to apply the policy to a student group’s event,” ADF wrote. “In fact, Mike Cohn, Director of Student Organizations, Leadership & Engagement, acknowledged that the policy had been ‘dormant’ for a while. But like a ghoul in the night, the University decided to resurrect the policy so that it can haunt its favorite target, Bruin Republicans, because the University has determined that other members of the campus community may object to the content and viewpoint to be expressed at the Event.”
“Here, the University assessed the security fees based on the viewpoint of Bruin Republicans’ event and speaker,” according to the letter. “Mr. Cohn is requiring Bruin Republicans, and its officers, to agree to pay some unspecified amount—which he acknowledges will be so large that they will be unable to pay—because Shapiro’s topics and views are controversial. The University’s policies and practices authorize the University to assess security fees based on the controversial nature of the activity and listeners’ potential reactions.”
The letter emphasizes, “the Supreme Court has said, ‘[s]peech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.’ Imposing security fees based on the perspective offered by Bruin Republicans and its speaker is viewpoint discrimination. Thus, the University is violating Bruin Republicans’ First Amendment rights.”
“What the university is doing, really, is taxing or financially burdening the Bruin Republicans’ viewpoints by making them pay for security and not requiring the same for other student groups,” said Tyson Langhofer, an ADF lawyer.
“As the U.S. Supreme Court has made very clear, public universities can’t enact policies that effectively stifle free speech just because administrators fear protestors might show up,” Langhofer added. “The reason for that is simple: Speech isn’t free if all it takes to silence it is for someone else to object. The high court has specifically stated that security fees, such as the ones at UCLA, aren’t constitutionally permissible.”