A California university that banned a speaker invited by a campus group because he was conservative now wants out of a lawsuit filed against its policies that limit the First Amendment.
Officials at California State-Los Angeles filed a court document recently asking to be relieved of the lawsuit brought by Young America’s Foundation, the student group that brought on campus author and political commentator Ben Shapiro.
WND reported last winter when the school allowed a mob to block the entrance to the building where he was speaking.
In addition, protesters set off a fire alarm to try to shut him down.
A sociology teacher, Robert Weide, called YAF students “white supremacists” and invited them to fight him. And Shapiro reported the professor wrote on a sign outside his office: “The best response to microaggression is macroaggression.”
In other words, he explained:, “If I’m offended I get to take physical action against you. I get to be violent with you.”
See a short video:
Among the school’s arguments is that the policy the school used for setting security fees, which was based on how “controversial” was a speaker, has been replaced.
The new policy has the school evaluating the “risk” of any speaker or event: “The assessment will take into account the type of event, profile of attendees, historical, or any other relevant considerations.”
That allows the school to “determine the type of security necessary based on the public safety needs of the event being held. Each event will be considered on a case-by-case basis to determine appropriate staffing.”
But the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education warned it still is problematic.
“While CSULA appears to be trying to escape a court’s judgment, they don’t yet seem to be willing to implement a policy that affirms their commitment to freedom of speech,” the organization said in a new report on the case.
The changes, adopted recently, remove “the explicit ability to charge for the presence of officers for any ‘controversial’ event, but instead allows CSULA to perform a ‘risk assessment’ of events, considering the “type of event, profile of attendees, historical, or any other relevant considerations,” FIRE said.
“The policy is an improvement, but it doesn’t bring CSULA into compliance with the First Amendment. Instead, CSULA has traded one problem – viewpoint-based security fees – for another: granting nearly unbridled discretion to administrators to decide whether to charge those same fees,” the report said.
“The First Amendment does not permit colleges to grant carte blanche power to administrators to make decisions about whether to charge fees, including security fees, without objective, published criteria to guide those decisions. In the absence of such clear, viewpoint-neutral criteria, there is an unacceptable risk that administrators will let their own opinions of the speaker’s views determine whether to charge those fees,” FIRE said.
“CSULA’s new policy provides no objective criteria. Instead, CSULA will subjectively weigh the ‘type of event,’ ‘historical’ considerations, and ‘other relevant considerations’ in determining whether – and how much – to charge students to bring a speaker to campus. So, if a speaker’s appearance has sparked protests at other campuses, or at CSULA, then administrators can impose security fees. Similarly, what ‘type of event’ means is left for administrators to divine. And the ‘other relevant considerations’ catch-all category allows an administrator to consider whatever they subjectively feel is relevant – including whether the speaker’s appearance will be controversial, or whether they disagree with his or her message.”
The lawsuit was filed in May, a few months after Shapiro was invited to speak on “When Diversity Becomes a Problem.”
The school tried to charge the students more than $600 in “security fees” at the time. But the students immediately challenged the fees and got them thrown out because they were based on school officials’ claims the speech was “controversial.”
The school maintained the policy, however, until the recent change, which FIRE contends still does not make sufficient changes to meet the requirements of the First Amendment.
The school is arguing that it didn’t charge YAF a fee, so there are no grounds for the complaint to continue.
“The university declined to apply the policy to plaintiffs when it was in effect, and the university has since repealed the security fees policy, eliminating any possible assessment of security fees based on whether an activity is deemed ‘controversial.’ … Given that plaintiffs cannot show injury-in-fact, harm to parties not befor the court is irrelevant,” the school said.
FIRE said: “When a public university like CSULA requires the presence of security guards at a speaking event, it cannot base its determination on what the speaker will say and how others will respond to it. Doing so not only imposes fees because of the identity of the speaker and the content of his or her speech, but creates a perverse incentive for disruption. Those opposed to a particular speaker’s view need only threaten protests or a violent reaction to be rewarded by the government imposing the costs of their reaction on their ideological opponents, potentially making it difficult (if not cost-prohibitive) to bring the speaker to campus.”
WND reported in February when the conservative commentator and author spoke despite protesters setting off a fire alarm and barricading the front door to the auditorium, forcing attendees to use a back door.
WND also reported when the case was filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom.
After the fight over fees, William Covina, school president, sent YAF an email canceling the event and imposing his own plan for a “more inclusive event” later in which Shapiro could appear “as part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity.”
But YAF held its event anyway – only to be confronted by “hundreds of protesters – aided by professors and faculty of the university.”
According to ADF, they “flooded the university’s student union and physically blocked access to the theater where Shapiro was scheduled to speak.”
“Professor Robert Weide made multiple posts on Facebook in which he called YAF supporters ‘white supremacists,’ compared them to Hitler, and threatened violence against them,” ADF said.
“CSU-LA unilaterally decided what ideas are permissible, in a flagrant violation of the First Amendment, and even allowed an aggressive mob to menace free speech supporters,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Hacker. “The defendants’ actions violated numerous university policies, as well as state and local laws. By blocking access to the event, the protestors created a serious safety hazard and denied our clients’ fundamental rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection of law.”
The lawsuit, in U.S. District Court for the Central District in California, names as defendants Covino and other school administrators, including Nancy Wada-McKee, Lisa Chavez, Jon Ortiz, Melina Abdullah, Luz Borjan Montalvo, Weide and Talia Mae Bettcher.
Covina later offered a “healing space” to any students who were offended by Shapiro’s speech.
“I would have never invited anybody like Ben Shapiro on campus. Never,” Covino said in a video of the meeting released by the Young America’s Foundation. “He was invited by students, he was funded by students, he was supported by students. I would have never invited anybody like Ben Shapiro.”
Watch the video of the meeting: