University of Colorado at Boulder: Prohibitive Security Fee Charged for Controversial Speakers

Category: Free Speech
Schools: University of Colorado at Boulder

After the University of Colorado at Boulder threatened to bill the Students for True Academic Freedom and other CU-Boulder clubs more than $2,000 for security for a controversial event featuring Ward Churchill and William Ayers as speakers, the organizers of the event came to FIRE for help. CU-Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard stated that Students for True Academic Freedom would be billed for security partly on the basis of a potentially hostile audience reaction to the speakers. The police security bill was going to be $2,203.42, plus fees for parking and building security. FIRE wrote to the University administration, explaining that requiring student organizations to pay for extra security is unconstitutional because it affixes a price tag to events on the basis of their expressive content. Soon after, CU-Boulder relented, and agreed that there should be no extra security fee for the event.

  • Campus security bills for speakers challenged

    March 29, 2009

    When a UC Berkeley student group invited a speaker known for his hard-line pro-Israel stance, the university feared clashes with Palestinian supporters and billed the group more than $3,000 for police protection. It was a common response by campus officials in a security-conscious era. When a speaker’s controversial topic or history suggests the possibility of a violent reaction, the thinking goes, the sponsoring group should pay for protecting the speaker, the audience and public property. That sounds logical, but it’s also unconstitutional, says the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a conservative-leaning group that defends free speech on campus. Citing […]

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  • Students In Standoff With CU Over Ayers, Churchill Event

    March 3, 2009

    The University of Colorado Boulder student group that is bringing former CU professor Ward Churchill and former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers to campus is locked in a standoff with the university over who will pay thousands of dollars for extra security at the event. Students for True Academic Freedom, which is sponsoring the event, said CU officials are unfairly imposing a $3,000 security fee to try to stop the event from happening. The fee would cover the cost of having campus police at the engagement. “The fees are exorbitant,” said Aaron Smith, an organizer with the group. Smith said […]

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  • Ward Churchill’s attorney: CU fee for Bill Ayers visit

    February 26, 2009

    The attorney representing fired University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill is threatening legal action if the school doesn’t waive a $3,000 fee for student groups hosting an appearance next week by former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers. David Lane, who represents Churchill, said Thursday the fee is exorbitant and an unconstitutional restraint on free speech. The university says the fee is standard for any event requiring security. CU attorney Pat O’Rourke said he’s reviewing Lane’s demand. CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard said it’s standard to charge student groups fees to recoup security costs for large events. He said the $3,000 charge […]

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  • Victory for Freedom of Speech at University of Colorado at Boulder: University Lifts Financial Burden on Students Hosting Controversial Speakers Ward Churchill and William Ayers

    April 20, 2009

    Today’s press release announces that FIRE has persuaded yet another public college to respect the First Amendment when it comes to charging high security fees for controversial speakers. In each case, the university charged additional fees for security because of the controversial nature of the speaker’s ideas. Charging every speaker (or the speaker’s hosts) the same amount for security is fine-such as charging all after-hours events for an after-hours security guard. But charging some speakers more than others for security, simply because the audience might feel offended and get unruly, is prohibited by the First Amendment. Two years ago it […]

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  • Victory for Freedom of Speech at University of Colorado at Boulder: University Lifts Financial Burden on Students Hosting Controversial Speakers Ward Churchill and William Ayers

    April 20, 2009

    BOULDER, Colo., April 20, 2009—The University of Colorado at Boulder has reversed a threat to charge excessively high security fees for a controversial event that included speeches by Ward Churchill and William Ayers. After the university threatened to bill the organizers more than $2,000 for security, the organizers of the event came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. “CU-Boulder should be commended for respecting freedom of speech,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “CU-Boulder joins a growing list of public universities that now understand that controversial speech may not be burdened simply because it is contentious […]

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  • Four FIRE Cases on Security Fees Top Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle

    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, […]

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  • Controversial Speakers Face Huge Security Fees at Berkeley and Colorado

    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 […]

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  • Controversial Speakers Face Huge Security Fees at Berkeley and Colorado

    March 17, 2009

    BERKELEY, Calif., and BOULDER, Colo., March 17, 2009—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. Meanwhile, students at the University of Colorado at Boulder are nervously awaiting a promised $2,200 security bill for a speech by controversial professors William Ayers and Ward Churchill. Students at both universities have turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. “Charging for extra security because of a potentially hostile audience grants the most disruptive or violent hecklers […]

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