BLOGThe Weekly Digest: 3-1-17

By James Arnold Posted on: | March 01, 2017
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On to the news.

 

Another School Agrees Not to Charge Conservative Group for "Free" Speech

 

It's a story that is beginning to feel all-to-common these days, but a university recently attempted to charge a conservative group a fee for inviting a "controversial" speaker to campus.

This time, the school is in Maine.

Here's the story, which (spoiler alert) has a happy ending:

"A politically conservative student group’s event proceeded late last week at the University of Southern Maine without the need for the group to pay unconstitutional security fees after the school received a letter from Alliance Defending Freedom. University officials agreed not to charge the campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom fees for their event on the Portland campus featuring a speech by a sitting member of the Maine Legislature on immigration policy and enforcement.

"The school originally wanted to charge the group approximately $450 in order to exercise their free speech because administrators deemed it 'controversial,' a practice that the courts have repeatedly ruled unconstitutional. In response to the ADF letter that pointed this out, the university’s chief of staff and general counsel, James Thelen, wrote in an e-mail, 'To ensure that no one’s constitutional rights are infringed while we are reviewing this matter, USM will not charge YAF security fees for the Thursday evening event.'"

This, of course, is not something new. We've seen this before in numerous states, including California, New York, and Michigan.

ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton had this to say about the result:

"Speech isn’t free when students have to pay hundreds of dollars because others want to protest their viewpoints. The cornerstone of higher education is the ability to participate freely in the marketplace of ideas on campus, but when administrators have free rein to charge student groups for ‘crowd control’ because their speech is deemed too ‘controversial,’ speech moves from being free to, quite literally, expensive. Policies like this give protestors the ability to veto less popular viewpoints, turning the marketplace of ideas into the intellectual vacuum of intolerance. We commend the university for deciding to review their policies and rescind the assessment of fees in this case. We hope they will make the necessary revisions so that this doesn’t happen again."

ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox added a broad perspective:

"Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, commissioners, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students."

Indeed, if universities will not model free speech for future leaders, and they charge students who are attempting to live out those principles, how could we reasonably expect the next generation to understand civil discourse?

 
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James Arnold

News and Research Manager

James Arnold manages and edits the Alliance Alert, a daily repository of news in all forms—written, spoken, or in video format.

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