The University of Washington wants the school’s College Republicans club to pay $17,000 for security for a Patriot Prayer rally this weekend on campus. The club says that the fee is unconstitutional and that it will sue.
The University of Washington says the UW College Republican club must pay $17,000 for security costs to put on a rally on Red Square this weekend. The club says it will sue to block the fee, calling it unconstitutional.
The club has invited Patriot Prayer, a conservative Vancouver, Wash., group to Red Square for a rally Saturday afternoon. Last Thursday, nine days before the rally, UW officials told the 25-member club they’d need to pay the fee for UW police to keep the square secure.
In an email, club president Chevy Swanson called the fee “outrageous,” and a lawyer for the club called the fee unconstitutional. The club plans to file a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday.
It is the latest in an ongoing, nationwide battle on college campuses over free-speech rights — a fight that often pits controversial conservative speakers against college administrators trying to keep the peace.
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In a statement late Monday, UW Police Chief John Vinson said security on the square “is likely to exceed the $17,000 estimate provided by UWPD.” He said the university “has gone to great lengths to support this student group’s right to invite speakers,” including a talk by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos last year, “where UWPD’s own security costs exceeded $20,000 and the student group paid less than half of that amount.”
Yiannopoulos, a former editor at Breitbart News, spoke in January 2017 at the UW at the invitation of the College Republicans. Violent protests broke out, and his appearance cost the UW and Seattle Police Department more than $75,000 — including about $20,000 in costs for UW Police and $53,335 for the Seattle Police Department. The club reimbursed the university $9,120 from funds it had raised for the event.
While Yiannopoulos was speaking inside Kane Hall, a 34-year-old man was shot and critically wounded on the square outside. A Seattle couple has pleaded not guilty to assault charges related the incident.
“UWPD is committed to providing a safe environment that allows speakers, their hosts and others to be heard,“ Vinson wrote, “but the university cannot continue to bear the significant costs associated with such events.”
Swanson said the club was told in mid-January that it would need to pay for security for the event, but it was not given a figure until late last week.
“We asked for a reasoning for the cost, and they said that deployment specifics cannot be discussed with us, and that we would have to trust them on that number,” Swanson said.
Vinson wrote that the $17,000 figure is an estimated cost that includes “an analysis of violence and threats to public safety by the invited speaker, attendees at previous events or the sponsoring group — both in and out of the state of Washington — as well as the date, time and location of the proposed event. Security cost estimates are not based on a speaker or group’s ideology or political position.”
In a letter to UW President Ana Mari Cauce, lawyer William Becker — who is representing the Republican club — said the UW’s actions “violate fundamental principles of free speech, equal protection, and due process guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”
Becker is president of Freedom X, a California nonprofit law firm that supports a slate of right-wing causes. In a phone interview, he said he would file a request for a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Tuesday to get the fees dropped.
“We’re disappointed but not surprised,” he said of the UW’s decision to impose the fee. Becker said the UW “failed to disclose why such an exorbitant fee is necessary” to manage security for a group that is planning a peaceful assembly.
Patriot Prayer, a conservative Christian group, came to Seattle in August for a rally at Westlake Plaza, where it clashed with hundreds of counterprotesters. Seattle police deployed blast balls and pepper spray to break up the crowd, and three people were arrested. The group also showed up for the Seattle Women’s March in January.
Swanson said that he has attended Patriot Prayer events before, and that the GOP club invited the group because “they are nonviolent and focus on free-speech issues.” He called the Red Square rally, which starts at 1 p.m., a “free-speech event at its core,” where Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson and members of the College Republicans will speak, and others will be invited to take the microphone.
In his letter, Becker said a group called “Solidarity Against Hate” has posted on Facebook that it plans to hold “an afternoon of peaceful protest,” including signs and chants. He called them “a radical group of left-wing activists” and said they had mistakenly mischaracterized Gibson as a Nazi.
“By requiring UWCRs (College Republicans) to pay security fees based on the potential reaction of those opposed to the viewpoints expressed, the University is exercising unbridled discretion inherent in its written policy to impose an unconstitutional heckler’s veto,” Becker wrote.
The “heckler’s veto” is a term that refers to the suppression of speech by a government entity because of the possibility of a violent reaction by opponents.
“Universities simply have been resistant to understanding how the heckler’s veto works,” Becker said.