Student Group Files Free Speech Lawsuit Against Western Michigan University With Help From FIRE

October 21, 2014

By Morgan Chalfant at Red Alert Politics

In its continuing effort to “stand up for speech,” the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is currently assisting a student group at Western Michigan University file a First Amendment lawsuit against the college.

The student group Kalamazoo Peace Center (KPC) filed the lawsuit Monday over an incident that occurred last spring during the student organization’s “Peace Week” events.

Specifically, KPC invited rapper and progressive activist Boots Riley to participate in Peace Week and deliver an address. After the announcement of the speaker, the university charged the group a “security fee” of $62 per hour because his remarks had the potential to cause disruption.

The university also initially refused to provide the group with space on campus to hold the event. After learning of the security fee, the group decided to move the speech to the basement of a campus ministry facility not controlled by WMU.

According to a university public safety official, the school issues these security fees on a “case-by-case basis” and has no true guidelines to indicate when an extra fee is appropriate. The school also takes into account the history and identity of the speaker when making these decisions.

The lawsuit, accordiong to the FIRE press release, accuses the security fee of functioning “as a viewpoint-based tax on controversial, dissenting, or unpopular speech.”

Additionally, the suit confronts the university policy forcing students to get approval for flyers, deeming the practice in violation of the First Amendment.

“Western Michigan University’s censorship relied on an old trick: Having realized that it could not outright ban Boots Riley from campus, WMU tried to tax him away,” asserted Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE. “WMU is about to learn that such transparent censorship doesn’t fly under the First Amendment.”

The suit, filed by FIRE as part of its “Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project,” is the seventh of its kind.

Schools: Western Michigan University Cases: Western Michigan University – Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project