Texas School Accused of 'Taxing Speech' After Exorbitant Security Fee for Santorum Speech, Update: UT-Austin Revisiting Fee, Cites Error

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Posted: Jan 10, 2018 1:15 PM
Texas School Accused of 'Taxing Speech' After Exorbitant Security Fee for Santorum Speech, Update: UT-Austin Revisiting Fee, Cites Error

Update: A spokesperson with UT-Austin told Townhall Thursday that the university "has reviewed the charge to the Young Conservatives of Texas and found that it was inaccurate." The charge has been reduced to $128 after an error was discovered in the charge. 

"In planning for events, campus police estimate the attendance and complexity of an event and charge for security accordingly," according to the spokesperson. "They also ask questions to help them estimate the number of protesters who might attend an event, to plan for security. The number of protesters does not figure into the fee, and any additional security costs are born by the institution. In this case, through human error, that number was mistakenly billed to the YCT. We regret the error and are going to work with the group to correct it. The university vigorously defends freedom of speech, which is essential to the academic experience. Our process for assessing security fees for outside speakers is content neutral, following well established law."

Original Post

The conservative organization Young America’s Foundation (YAF) sent a letter Wednesday to the University of Texas at Austin demanding that they cancel a $654 security fee for a speech on moral governance by former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.

The group believes the fee amounts to “viewpoint discrimination” based on the process by which it was determined.

“School administrators may not impose varying security fees based on the community’s reaction to the content of speech. Doing so violates both the First and the Fourteenth Amendments,” Spencer Brown, Spokesman for Young America’s Foundation said. “This security fee reeks of viewpoint discrimination. The facts are clear – University officials arbitrarily levied a hefty security fee based on the content of Senator Santorum’s lecture. Equally clear is how the courts respond to such a practice.”

The November speech was arranged by the Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) student group along with YAF.

Based on a public records request, YAF discovered that UT-Austin “charged conservative students a higher security fee for the Santorum lecture than it charged any other student group in the 2016-2017 academic year.”

A request for the factors UT-Austin took into account in determining the fee revealed questions that, YAF says, “improperly inquire into the content of the students’ speech.”

UT-Austin asks “will there be any special guests (politicians, or anyone controversial)” and “what is the topic of the event?”

YAF’s letter concluded that “UT-Austin discriminated against YCT, on the basis of viewpoint, when it issued an exorbitant security fee” and that the school “failed to employ any ‘narrowly drawn, reasonable and definite standards’ when it imposed a $654 fee upon students.”

The group is demanding an immediate rescission of the fee and a review of the University’s current system of issuing security fees to ensure it does not abuse the First Amendment rights of students.

YAF continually struggles with exorbitant security fees for conservative speakers at their events.

Speeches organized by YAF featuring conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro at University of California Berkeley prompted high security fees last year.