Western Michigan University – Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit

Category: Free Speech
Schools: Western Michigan University

This lawsuit is a part of FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project. 

In 2014, a Western Michigan University (WMU) student organization filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the university with assistance from FIRE. The lawsuit alleged that when Kalamazoo Peace Center (KPC) sought to secure university space for rapper and social activist Boots Riley’s keynote address for its annual Peace Week commemoration, WMU refused, citing “public safety.” When presented with evidence that Riley had appeared on other college campuses without incident, WMU notified KPC that it could hold the event on campus—but only after paying $62 per hour for private security. Rather than pay this unforeseen and unjustifiable expense, KPC arranged for Riley to speak in the basement of the Wesley Foundation, a campus ministry group whose facility was not controlled by the university.

In 2015, WMU settled the lawsuit, agreeing to revise the challenged policies and pay damages and attorneys’ fees. Following the settlement, WMU denied that it had agreed to pay damages and fumbled implementation of its revised policies. Only after FIRE posted an online clock tracking how long it was taking WMU to make its revised policies available to the public did WMU publicly post its revised event space, event security, and posting policies.