In a victory for the First Amendment – and a demonstration of the power of a well-timed pressure campaign – a libertarian group at Boise State University that hosted an on-campus event will be refunded a “security fee” charged by the university.
It’s not clear whether the activist groups that warned Boise State will follow up with legal action or further demands on the school, which said it’s not changing its policies on the fees. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, one of those groups, told The College Fix it expects future “unconstitutional fees” to be charged to student groups by the university.
In May, Boise State’s Young Americans for Liberty chapter hosted Dick Heller, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court’s landmark Heller decision that overturned Washington, D.C.’s gun ban, as a speaker on the Second Amendment.
The university originally charged the chapter a security fee because it said a community member had implied he would bring a gun to campus, despite the event organizers’ explicit no-gun policy, as The College Fix previously reported.
The university has now backtracked and returned the fee, the Associated Press reported.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education applauded the university’s decision in an emailed statement to The College Fix.
But Boise State still has in place policies which can lead to imposition of a security fee and has given no indication it plans to change them, said Peter Bonilla, the director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program.
Despite the rescinded fee, “the issue is far from moot” because Boise State’s continued policies “make it all but certain that other student organizations will be charged such unconstitutional fees in the future,” Bonilla said.
Though Bonilla declined to say what legal action may follow from FIRE – which launched a nationwide litigation campaign against speech codes this summer – he said the group remains “ready and willing to help Boise State revise its policies to bring them fully in line with the Constitution.”
Other groups pressuring the school to drop the fee include the ACLU of Idaho and Idaho Freedom Foundation.
In a letter to the university prior to the fee being rescinded, the ACLU of Idaho called on the university to not only return the fee, but also change its policies for on-campus events. The letter references several portions of the policy that the ACLU says appear to be unconstitutional.
For example, last year a federal judge in Idaho ruled in Watters v. Otter that charging entities for services like security are unconstitutional if applied arbitrarily, the ACLU said. Additionally, the ACLU argued that Boise State’s policies discriminate against different viewpoints.
Boise State’s Conference Services page states that groups that want to have on-campus events must follow certain rules, including: “University Conference Services may require uniformed security officers to be present for events at the sponsoring organization’s expense.”
The page continues: “University Conference Services’ staff will make arrangements to hire security officers through the University’s contracted law enforcement service. The cost will be passed on to the sponsoring organization as part of the event cost.”
Neither the ACLU nor the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at Boise State responded to requests for comment.
Student speech on campus got a boost from a recent Supreme Court decision in Driehaus v. SBA concerning a “false statements” law in Ohio, which also made it easier for groups to challenge free-speech restrictions before they are punished for violations, as The College Fix previously reported.
FIRE’s Bonilla told The College Fix it was hard to say how the Driehaus ruling “might play out” regarding the imposition of security fees.
But the Driehaus decision was encouraging for anyone whose speech was threatened before being punished, Bonilla added: “People whose First Amendment rights stand to suffer under unconstitutional policies should not have to wait until their rights have been violated for the right to challenge such policies to kick in.”
College Fix contributor Matt Lamb is a student at Loyola University-Chicago.
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