The letter below was endorsed by members of the faculty of the University of Washington School of Law and was submitted to the President of the University, Ana Mari Cauce. The controversy that prompted the letter involved the University’s attempt to impose a fee of at least $17,000 on the College Republicans, this in connection with an event hosted by them on February 10, 2018. The group invited Joey Gibson, a controversial speaker who heads an organization known as Patriot Prayer, to speak on that date.
- Joey Gibson Speaks / Prays at Republican Rally at Washington University Seattle, YouTube, April 10, 2018
- Steven Hsieh, Court Blocks UW from Charging College Republicans $17,000 Security Fee for Far Right Rally, The Stranger, Feb. 9, 2018
- Nathalie Graham & Steven Hsieh, Police Made Five Arrests and Deployed Pepper Spray at the UW Patriot Prayer Rally, The Stranger, Feb. 10, 2018
- Katherine Managan, Security Costs Loom Larger in Campus Free-Speech Fights. A Lawsuit Shows Why, Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb. 7, 2018
The University of Washington now plans to change its protocol regarding student-hosted events so that student organizations will not be charged for any security measures needed to protect the students, an invited speaker, or other guests from counter-protesters.
I thought this letter, prepared largely by Professor Eric Schnapper and endorsed by 22 others (including myself), was sufficiently important to post it in its entirety, including endnotes. The letter makes a strong case for First Amendment protection. Equally important, it also reveals how in the past First Amendment law was invoked to protect minority rights in contexts where unruly individuals or crowds sought to silence civil rights demonstrators or where fines or fees were imposed on civil rights groups.
Finally, the UW Law letter provides an informative guide to much of the existing law concerning free speech rights and security fees. In that regard, it should be useful to college administrators, lawyers representing colleges, lawyers representing students and speakers, and to student organizations in general, among others.
April 4, 2018
Dear President Cauce:
We write to urge modification of the policy of the University of Washington regarding the imposition of fees for security measures taken in connection with events on campus. As now written, the policy provides that the fee charged to a student group or other host can be based in part on the security measures needed to protect that host organization, or its guests, from possible attack by opponents who object to the views of the organization or of a speaker invited by that organization.  The University is currently seeking to impose a fee of at least $17,000 on the College Republicans, in connection with an event hosted by that group on February 10, 2018, at which the invited speaker was Mr. Joey Gibson, who is the head of an organization called Patriot Prayer. The constitutionality of that proposed fee is currently the subject of litigation pending in federal district court, and that court has already made a preliminary determination that the University’s policy is likely to be held unconstitutional.
We concur in the federal court’s preliminary determination and strongly urge you to voluntarily modify the University’s policy rather than litigating this matter further. Specifically, we recommend that you modify the policy to preclude the imposition of any fee for security measures taken to protect a host organization, or its guests, from the hostility of others who may disagree with their views. Consistent with such a change in policy, we believe you should withdraw the pending request for reimbursement by the College Republicans insofar as it is based on such security measures. Our views on this matter do not reflect any agreement with the views of Mr. Gibson, or with the decision to invite him to speak on campus. Below, we explain why we believe that this request is justified by law and the interests of the university.
(1) Supreme Court Jurisprudence