By Robby Soave at Reason Online
Boise State University trampled a libertarian student club’s free speech rights by forcing the group to pay a large fee before administrators would permit a gun rights activist to speak on campus, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The Young Americans for Liberty invited Dick Heller, one of the plaintiffs in the landmark Supreme Court Case District of Columbia v. Heller, to discuss his pro-Second Amendment views at an even in May. A mere 24 hours before the event, Boise State told YAL that the group would have to pay a $465 “security fee” or face immediate cancellation of Heller’s speech.
After taking criticism for their actions, administrators claimed the security fee was necessary to hire guards to deal with the potential for disorder—a rationale both dubious and unconstitutional, according to FIRE:
Having no other choice, YAL acceded to Boise State’s demand. A Boise State spokesperson later justified the fees by citing “concern that a community member had been encouraging folks to open carry” in violation of Boise State policy—an action YAL had explicitly discouraged among attendees. Boise State’s event policies claim to give the university the discretionary right to “require uniformed security officers and/or law enforcement officers” at student group events and make clear that “the cost will be passed on to the sponsoring organization.”
FIRE wrote to university president Robert Kustra on July 3, calling on Boise State to refund the unconstitutional security fees. As FIRE explained, Boise State’s demand that YAL pay extra security fees in response to the university’s open carry concerns allows for a “heckler’s veto,” meaning that opponents of any given event may saddle the event’s planners with prohibitive security costs by threatening trouble. FIRE also criticized Boise State’s unconstitutional event policies, which give university administrators essentially unchecked discretion to charge security fees as they see fit, in violation of the First Amendment.
As FIRE notes, this is a perfect (and unfortunate) example of the “heckler’s veto.” If Person A can make threats that prompt a university to limit Person B’s rights, then the campus would not be a welcome place for diverse ideas at all.
Sadly, Boise State seems like quite the unfree hellhole. A pro-life student group, Abolitionists4Life, has sued the university for forcing it to conduct its political advocacy in one of several small “free speech zones” on campus. The group’s signs were deemed offensive in the eyes of university administrators.
FIRE has asked the university to refund YAL’s security fee. If Boise State does not comply, it could find itself the subject of a lawsuit. FIRE recently announced expansive litigation efforts against colleges across the country that abridge their students’ First Amendment rights.