Victory at UC Santa Barbara: University Nixes Student Government’s Unconstitutional Rejection of David Horowitz Speech

By October 10, 2011

FIRE finally can report, as we did this morning in a national press release, that officials at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) stepped in after its student government unconstitutionally denied funding for a speech by conservative activist David Horowitz. The student government had engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination on two separate occasions and then tried to hide the evidence of its wrongdoing. The College Republicans, Horowitz’s hosts, came to FIRE for help.

The UCSB student government’s explicit viewpoint discrimination against the UCSB College Republicans (CRs) and conservative writer and activist David Horowitz was quite outrageous. First, the Associated Students Finance Board voted to allocate zero dollars for the event. The CRs appealed to the Associated Students Legislative Council (LC). Then, as the minutes of the meeting show, the LC voted to hide the unconstitutional reasoning behind the Finance Board’s rejection of funds from the public record. Fortunately, FIRE has the evidence.

But that’s not all. During the LC appeal, the LC voted by general consent to allocate $1,100 for security for the event. The audience then erupted with shouts including "You are sponsoring Islamophobia and racism on this campus," and "Who on this board is representing the Muslim community?" The LC thus reopened the debate, voted down the $1,100, and ultimately voted to allocate only $800 for security.

But that’s still not all. At least five of the eight LC members who voted to reject funding for the event did so after making clear that they were against the funding because of Horowitz’s conservative viewpoints.

Here are some of the quotes from the five LC members who voted down the $1,100:

  • "I believe the statements should be founded in fact and there’s a difference between that and completely outlandish statements. … If there were intelligent discourse with David, then great, but this is not the case. He will go on a rant about people that he doesn’t agree with or like."
  • "My only reservation with bringing Horowitz is that it would be an educational event. David belittles students and professors and will only anger folks."
  • "Do you think the idea of free speech jeopardizes the safety of students on the campus?"
  • "Couldn’t you [the CRs] have chosen someone who better represents your minority group in a constructive manner?"
  • "Not funding their [the CRs’] event is not making them feel like they are not included in this campus. Being a political[] minority is WAY different than a structural minority."

One of the students even said, "I don’t want to fund security because I’ve been there and the police do not protect the students’ right to peacefully and protest and assemble." Her argument here suggests that she prefers a "heckler’s veto" whereby the government or its agents censor a speaker’s expression because of the disruptive actions of a third party. In this instance, the student might even be arguing that the police should not step in to protect an unpopular speaker from angry protesters, so LC should not allocate funds for security to protect the speaker’s safety.

The evidence here is quite clear that at the very least, the College Republicans would have been allocated $1,100 rather than $800 were it not for the viewpoint discrimination by the Associated Students Legislative Council.

FIRE wrote UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang on May 6 and June 7, detailing the utter failure of student government members to vote on a viewpoint-neutral basis, in violation of the First Amendment. On June 21, Campus Counsel Nancy Greenan Hamill replied to FIRE, claiming that the CRs had been allocated $1,100, but the CRs’ official Fund Audit Report showed no such allocation.

UCSB administrators provided FIRE and CRs President Steven Begakis with conflicting information for months until, finally, on October 6, UCSB Assistant Dean of Students Katya Armistead produced a document demonstrating that UCSB had put $1,800 in the CRs’ account. The months it took for UCSB administrators to get their own story straight just compounded the problem caused by the student government.

Nevertheless, UCSB ultimately did the right thing by making the CRs whole. UCSB now must take steps to ensure that its student government never again violates the First Amendment rights of a student organization. UCSB ought to let the student government know, in no uncertain terms, that it needs to eliminate all of its viewpoint discrimination from its funding criteria, in both policy and practice. The student government is an agent of UCSB and therefore of the state of California. This means that the student government may not deny funding for events because of dislike for a speaker or disagreement with his or her views, nor may it allocate funding because of agreement with a speaker’s views. A vote regarding an allocation of mandatory student activity fee funds is not supposed to be a popularity contest; rather, it’s intended to be a dispassionate decision about whether an organization has fulfilled viewpoint-neutral criteria. The Supreme Court has decided, in fact, that such allocations must be viewpoint neutral.

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in today’s press release, "Thankfully, USCB has finally rectified this error and saved itself from an embarrassing and inevitably doomed fight against the First Amendment." FIRE will be watching to ensure that UCSB does not go down this road again.

You can help by taking action and telling UCSB’s student government to start meeting its free speech obligations today.