Last year, we all remember the infamous Bill Ayers came to speak at MSU on behalf of the SDS (Students of Democratic Society). There was about 70 well behaved teaparty there along with the SDS and several professors. I say well behaved of the teaparty because they were.
At the time of the event, a new conservative group was being iniated. The conservative group consists of Libertarians and Republicans and is chartered as a class three Libertarian Group. The group has come along way this year and has several accomplishments one being getting the SDS de-chartered. Yes, the SDS does not have a charter on the campus because they were violating “speech codes,” and committing other campus violations so the conservatives complained. They were also “occupying” administrators offices.
This small but happy go lucky 501c3 chartered Libertarian group shares a bank account with the Campustea (teaparty students-also a 501c3) who dispenses a maintenance fee on top of what the college gives so that the students can do various activities. The students this year want to have Thomas Woods. The speaker charges $3,000 to speak. However, the campus is levying a heavy security fee on top along with a room fee. The college is requiring the group to pay for two police officers at a nominal amount driving the cost out of range. Upon investigating the situation, we at the Campustea have discovered that it is “unconstitutional” to require the group to pay the tab due to the controversial content of the speaker. The case will be forwarded to FIRE.
In reading the complaints already about MSU to FIRE, we have discovered that this is not the first time MSU has done this. Susan Cole (President) and the SGA have a history of violating their own rules and the rights of student groups as well. Last year when Bill Ayers came, they were also required to pay for the security.
FIRE wrote MSU President Susan A. Cole on March 24 prior to the event, explaining that it would be “unconstitutional to require SDS to provide funding for extra security due to the controversial content of the presentation and the prospect of angry protesters. The First Amendment, by which MSU is legally bound as a public university, does not permit affixing a price tag to events on the basis of their expressive content. That would be a form of the “heckler’s veto” whereby the least tolerant, most violent people in the community get to decide who may speak unmolested, simply by threatening violence and raising the cost of security out of reach for the speaker.”
The Supreme Court addressed precisely this issue in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992), explaining that it is unacceptable if “[t]hose wishing to express views unpopular with bottle throwers, for example, may have to pay more for their permit.” The Court stated that “[l]isteners’ reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation…. Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.”
MSU did not respond directly to FIRE’s letter, but SDS has confirmed that it has not been charged for the extra security that was present at the event.
This is the second time in recent years that FIRE has intervened to ensure that MSU met its constitutional responsibilities. In 2008, FIRE explained to President Cole that MSU’s Student Government Association (SGA) had brazenly violated the First Amendment when the SGA froze funding to The Montclarion, MSU’s student newspaper, because of a dispute regarding press access to closed SGA meetings. As a result, MSU restored funding to the paper and initiated efforts to make it independent of the SGA.
FIRE also has successfully intervened at several universities to prevent schools from assessing unconstitutional “security” fees for controversial speakers, including conservative writer Don Feder at University of Massachusetts Amherst and Ayn Rand Institute Fellow Elan Journo at the University of California at Berkeley.
FIRE is pleased that MSU has met its First Amendment obligations once again. Now, if MSU would only reform its speech-restrictive policies to pass First Amendment muster, free speech really would be safe at MSU. FIRE would be happy to help with those revisions.(1)http://thefire.org/article/13111.html
This is now going to be the next complaint about MSU. The same one as above-levying unconstitutional fees to a college group who wants to have a speaker. The Heckler’s veto-as FIRE has stated also applies to the Libertarian group as well. The uphill battle for the conservative on campus continues. See added links