– Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter
Monday to the University of California, Los Angeles, on behalf of a student Republican group that is facing unconstitutional security fee hurdles for a Nov. 13 event featuring conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. The university says Bruin Republicans will be charged exorbitant security fees if significant numbers of people other than UCLA students, faculty, and staff show up. The letter asks the university to rescind the requirement and modify the policy.
UCLA admits that there’s “no way” the student group will be able to afford the fees if charged—fees of the kind that the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear violate the First Amendment. The school didn’t impose the same requirement on other events that attracted large outside audiences. In 2014, it paid $300,000 to Hillary Clinton to speak at the school. Of the 1,800 tickets for that event, 1,400 were sold to the highest bidder (mostly off-campus purchasers) and only 400 were given away to students.
“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,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “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.”
As the ADF letter explains, “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.”
The UCLA Policy on Costs of Safety Services at Campus Events Sponsored by Registered Campus Organizations, enacted more than eight years ago, is supposed to apply to every campus event hosted by every student organization. Because the university has more than 1,200 student organizations that host thousands of events every year, the policy should have been applied to tens of thousands of events since its enactment. Instead, the university has applied it only four previous times, and two of those were to Bruin Republican events.
“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,” the ADF letter explains. “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,” the letter continues. “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.”
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, educators, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public colleges and universities demonstrate the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “UCLA should be modeling this for its students, and a good first step would be to end this bizarre and unconstitutional policy.”