Open discussion of Israeli-Palestinian issues can now resume unburdened at the University of California at Berkeley, which has slashed a “security fee” that would have kept a controversial speaker off campus. At Berkeley, members of the Objectivist Club of Berkeley (OCB) turned to FIRE when faced with a $3,000 security fee to host a speech by Elan Journo entitled “America’s Stake in the Arab-Israeli Conflict.” OCB President Dave Zornek was told by the UC Berkeley Police Department that uniformed officers would be required for the event because of the subject matter of Journo’s presentation and previous tension between Israeli and Palestinian student groups. FIRE wrote Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau to protest the prohibitively expensive security fee, citing the Supreme Court precedent banning the act. Berkeley responded less than two weeks later, promising to use only content-neutral criteria for security. As a result, OCB was charged only about $460 for two police officers. FIRE asked Berkeley to publish its content-neutral criteria as soon as possible. The unconstitutional “heckler’s veto” has once again been dealt another blow on college campuses.
April 9, 2009
WHEN CONSERVATIVE columnist Don Feder spoke at UMass-Amherst last month, his speech was cut short by a large group of students whose noisy and disruptive antics drove Feder off the lectern midway through his speech. As one UMass student wrote after the event, “I am embarrassed of the way my fellow classmates have chosen to express their discontent.” She should be – but she should also know that she is not the only one who is due for some embarrassment. America’s campuses are seeing a growing movement by students to shut off debate by organized groups and silence speakers with […]» Read More
March 31, 2009
Page A-1 of Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle features four of FIRE’s cases on unacceptably high security fees for controversial speakers. In each case, the potential reaction of the audience was used to assess security fees and charge them to the host. But as the Supreme Court wrote in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992), “Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.” In the article, Bob Egelko points out that both Berkeley and UCLA, two of the three top-ranked schools in U.S. News & World Report, […]» Read More
March 17, 2009
Today’s press release calls upon the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Colorado at Boulder to meet their constitutional responsibility not to burden controversial speakers or ideas on campus. The principle is pretty clear: whether the speaker is controversial, popular, or unremarkable, similar security fees should be assessed for similar events. All too often, we have seen the assessment of very high “security costs” as a pretext for punishing or even excluding unpopular or controversial speakers. The truth is that if any extra security is deemed necessary because of a potentially hostile audience, it is the responsibility […]» Read More