Temple University tacks on last-minute fee for free speech event

January 20, 2010

Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ trial over his controversial remarks about terrorism and Islam begins today in Amsterdam. Not to miss an opportunity to bathe themselves in irony, Temple University decided to hop on the "tamping down on free speech" train by charging an after-the-fact "security fee" for an event featuring Wilders that happened in October.

During the event, Wilders showed a short film which featured various passages of the Koran interspersed with scenes or descriptions of Islamist-perpetrated violence. Extra security was dispatched and no disturbances occurred.

One month later, the host club, Temple University Purpose, received a bill from the university for $800 to pay for "security officer" to "secure the room and building:"

TUP Interim President Brittany Walsh pointed out in an e-mail to administrators that Temple had said before the event that the university would pay any extra security costs, but she received no substantive reply even after repeated e-mails.

In a letter to the university’s president, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) noted that the Supreme Court has already weighed in on paying for extra security in the instance of a controversial event. In Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992), the Court struck down a local government’s increased fee for police protection because "speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob." (Sidejoke: Democrats’ campaign speeches would be pretty expensive, then.)

Temple doesn’t have a particularly strong record on speech. FIRE’s Adam Kissel mentions that its speech code was struck down by the Third Circuit. 

The travesty is not that universities forsake free speech on political grounds. It’s that universities aren’t hawkish in protecting free speech.

Schools: Temple University Cases: Temple University: Unconstitutional Security Fee for Geert Wilders Presentation