UC responds to lawsuit: Spencer security fee a 'fraction' of anticipated costs

UC responds to lawsuit: Spencer security fee a 'fraction' of anticipated costs
Richard Spencer (Source: Vas Panogiotopoulas)

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, OH (FOX19) - The University of Cincinnati was hit with a $2 million federal lawsuit Monday over a $10,833 security fee they are charging white nationalist Richard Spencer's booker.

The room Cameron Padgett attempted to rent would have cost only $500 if security was unnecessary, the suit states.

Padgett wants the court to require UC officials to permit him to rent a room on campus without being required to pay anything more than a reasonable rental fee -- in addition to general and punitive fees of $2 million.

"A price tag cannot be affixed to the fundamental right of free speech," said Padgett's attorney, Kyle Bristow of the Michigan-based firm Bristow Law, in a prepared statement. "A speech tax does not comport with the United States Constitution and will not whatsoever be tolerated by my client."

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott.

UC spokesperson Greg Vehr released a statement Tuesday, which reads:

As a state institution, and as a matter of principle, we adhere to the foundational rights embedded in the First Amendment.  This includes protecting the right to free speech. We have stood by this principle all along and will continue to do so. However, Spencer was not invited or sponsored by any member of the university community, and like other non-sponsored speakers, he must pay a fee to rent university space.  This includes a security fee. The fee assessed is a mere fraction of the costs we anticipate incurring as a result of this event, but we hold firm in our efforts to respect the principles of free speech while maintaining safety on campus.

The university will work with its legal team to review the complaint and respond in court accordingly. 

Spencer drew large crowds -- of both protesters and supporters -- in October when he spoke at the University of Florida. That week, U.S. Senator for Florida Marco Rubio described Spencer's message as racist.

Padgett successfully sued Auburn University, which settled for $29,000 a federal judge ordered it to permit a Spencer event to proceed and is currently suing Ohio State University, Michigan State University and Pennsylvania University, his lawyer said.

Padgett also has threatened to sue the University of Michigan by Monday unless university officials schedule a date for him to speak.

But in those cases, the universities initially refused to permit Spencer to speak based on security issues.

UC officials have agreed to let Spencer speak and have provided him a date.

Padgett's court filing notes that there is a legal precedent that it is unconstitutionally discriminatory for a speaker to be required to pay for security due to the controversial nature of their speech or due to the community's hostile reaction to the same.

According to an official UC webpage, the university assesses security fees based on criteria Padgett maintains to be facially unconstitutional in light of that "Is the event/speaker controversial?" and "Have any threats been received?" his lawyer said.

Padgett's complaint against the University of Cincinnati also notes an "alarming trend" nationally: due to violence threatened by left-wing Antifa terrorists, conservative speakers often need massive police protection to protect them when speaking at public universities.

According to his lawyer, the University of Florida spent nearly $600,000 to provide security for Spencer to speak there for only two hours.

The University of California-Berkeley planned to spend $600,000 to provide security for a brief speech by conservative commentator Ann Coulter; $600,000 to provide security for a brief speech by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, and planned to spend $1,000,000 to provide security for conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos.

By charging event organizers fees "based upon the reaction of the violent liberal mob, de facto censorship can and will result due to security costs being imposed which are often cost-prohibitive for such politically right-of-center events to occur," Bristow's statement reads.

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