Scottsdale-based Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter Monday on behalf of a student group to California State University, Los Angeles, for charging the group unconstitutional fees in order to exercise its freedom of speech. The university president responded immediately by cancelling the event, having “decided that it will be best” to include the speaker in a “more inclusive event” featuring “a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity.” The student organization, Young Americans for Freedom, is now considering a lawsuit against the university.
University officials charged YAF $621.50 for security officers because it deemed an event that the group is sponsoring “controversial.” The university has broad guidelines for such a designation and leaves it to the whim of officials, a practice that the U.S. Supreme Court has found to be unconstitutional in other cases. After the university received the ADF letter explaining this, CSU–Los Angeles President William Covino sent an e-mail to the student group to inform them that its event has been cancelled.
“Public universities should encourage, not stifle, the free exchange of ideas,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Hacker. “YAF has every bit as much right to hold its event as any other student group does, and the university can’t stop that because it prefers to water down the speaker’s message with other viewpoints that officials find more palatable to their own political views. The courts have made it clear that university officials cannot deem an event ‘controversial’ and then weigh down students with burdensome fees to engage in constitutionally protected free speech just because some people consider it controversial, but it’s even worse to take that a step further and try to silence the speech altogether.”
YAF is a chapter affiliate of Young America’s Foundation and a registered student organization at the university. YAF followed the university’s policies and procedures for planning an event Thursday in the U-SU Theatre on campus with conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro. YAF has been promoting it through social media and fliers for several weeks.
In reaction, some university students and staff commented on the social media posts and called the YAF chapter “intolerant” and “racists.” In particular, University Associate Professor of Sociology Robert Weide called the YAF students “white supremacists” and invited the YAF students to fight him in the U-SU gym. On Feb. 18, the university told YAF that it must hire three security officers and one university police officer for the event at a cost of $621.50 because “Mr. Shapiro’s topics and views are controversial.” ADF attorneys pointed out in their letter that the U.S. Supreme Court has already invalidated that rationale and asked that the university “immediately rescind the security fees assessed to YAF for the February 25 event.”
In an e-mail to YAF late Monday, Covino wrote, “After careful consideration, I have decided that it will be best for our campus community if we reschedule Ben Shapiro’s appearance for a later date, so that we can arrange for him to appear as part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity…. We will be happy to work with Mr. Shapiro to schedule the more inclusive event that I have in mind. I have informed the university staff involved in facilitating the February 25 event that it will be rescheduled and reconfigured for a later date.”
“The First Amendment does not require YAF to consolidate its viewpoint with others,” Hacker noted. “The number of events on university campuses with speakers who have different viewpoints from Mr. Shapiro’s and YAF’s are plentiful. No need or legitimate basis exists for cancelling YAF’s event.”