Victory for Freedom of Speech at University of Arizona: Refund of Security Fee for Controversial Speaker Marks First Victory Posted on New FIRE Website
July 6, 2009
TUCSON, Ariz., July 6, 2009—The University of Arizona has rescinded its unconstitutional security fee for an event featuring author and conservative activist David Horowitz. After the university billed the College Republicans student group $384.72 for security that it did not request, the club came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.
"The University of Arizona should be commended for respecting freedom of speech," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "Arizona joins a growing list of public universities that now understand that controversial speech may not be burdened simply because it might be contentious enough to bring out protesters."
Horowitz spoke on April 7 at an event sponsored by the College Republicans. A few days before the event, the Dean of Students Office contacted the University of Arizona Police Department (UAPD) regarding security for the event. On April 3, UAPD Commander Robert Sommerfeld informed College Republicans President Ryan Ellison that if the group did not request two UAPD officers for security at the event, he would recommend that the event be shut down. In order to avoid having the event canceled, the College Republicans acceded to the UAPD's demand.
The event proceeded without any problems, and on April 19 the group received an invoice of $384.72 for the security. A June 8 e-mail from Anjelica Yrigoyen, Special Event Coordinator for the UAPD, specifically linked the security fee to the controversial nature of the event.
After being pressured to pay the bill, the College Republicans turned to FIRE for help. On June 10, FIRE wrote University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton, pointing out that any requirement that student organizations hosting controversial events pay for extra security is unconstitutional because it affixes a price tag to events on the basis of their expressive content. FIRE cited the Supreme Court's decision in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992), which states, "Listeners' 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."
Last week, Commander Sommerfeld and Chief of Police Anthony Daykin informed College Republicans Secretary Jessica Hermann that the university had "decided to absorb" the full cost of the security. The University of Arizona therefore joins the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and the University of California, Berkeley, each of which this year has recognized the Forsyth precedent and has refunded excessive security fees after intervention by FIRE.
"One by one, universities are remembering their duty to protect controversial speech, rather than unduly burdening it or letting it be shouted down," said Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program. "Those who fulfill the important task of bringing dissenting viewpoints to the university must be protected from those who respond to dissent with violence or disruption."
FIRE Victory Posted on New, Improved Website
Information on this case at the University of Arizona and others like it can be found at FIRE's newly redesigned website, thefire.org, an improved educational resource for students, faculty, parents, administrators, journalists, and lawyers. The new look and features of thefire.org will increase user interaction, functionality, and understanding of individual rights with easier access to news, case materials, multimedia, publications, and more.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation's colleges and universities. FIRE's efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are detailed at the new FIRE website.