ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., Jan. 26, 2017—Two University of New Mexico (UNM) student groups will no longer have to pay a $3,400 tax on speech to host Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos on campus tomorrow.
One day after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote to UNM about the threat posed to campus free speech by its “Police and Security Services” policy, the university suspended portions of its policy and waived security fees for the Yiannopoulos event—and for all future events hosted by student groups.
“FIRE thanks the University of New Mexico for taking the necessary steps to ensure that students’ First Amendment rights will no longer be burdened by unconstitutional speech taxes,” said FIRE Program Officer Adam Steinbaugh. “Arbitrarily affixing a price tag to speakers because their ideas are deemed ‘controversial’ is unacceptable in a free society, and especially so on a college campus.”
For months, the UNM chapters of the College Republicans and Young Americans for Liberty have planned to host Yiannopoulos on campus for a January 27 speech. Two weeks before the event, UNM told the student groups that they needed to pay $3,400 in security fees if they still wished to host Yiannopoulos. The last-minute security fee demand was apparently required by UNM Policy 2230 (“Police and Security Services”), which authorizes the levying of a speech tax on student groups based on the “controversial nature of speakers or subjects” they invite.
On Tuesday, FIRE informed UNM that forcing student groups to pay security fees depending on administrators’ tastes violates the First Amendment and that Policy 2230 must be rescinded.
Yesterday, acting UNM President Chaouki Abdallah released a statement announcing “the immediate suspension and application of that portion of the policy that results in fees for security and police protection, pending a thorough policy review.” He also noted that “the University of New Mexico is committed to the principles of free speech, and values our role as a marketplace of ideas in the community.”
Yiannopoulos’ speaking appearances on campuses across the country have often been met by protests from students, faculty, and the public. The vast majority of the protesters have been peaceful in exercising their right to counter-speech. However, some demonstrators have engaged in civil disobedience, true threats of violence, or violence to prevent Yiannopoulos from speaking. In its letter, FIRE noted that levying security fees against a student group hosting Yiannopoulos because of the prospect of violence offers an unconstitutional “heckler’s veto” to those wishing to disrupt his speeches.
“Today, free speech won at the University of New Mexico,” said Steinbaugh. “No longer can speech taxes be used to silence speakers for their ideas. As the university moves forward with a thorough review of its policies, FIRE is happy to offer our support to ensure they comply with the First Amendment.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.
Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org