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Legal group demands UNM drop $5,461.40 security fee for pro-life event

Pro-life group agreed to fee, but only to get event approved

The University of New Mexico’s Students for Life chapter has been charged $5,461.40 in security fees for an event, a requirement that drew a legal demand letter from Alliance Defending Freedom.

ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham sent a legal letter to the university on behalf of Students for Life.

“​​The University has violated the First Amendment rights of Students for Life of America and Students for Life at the University of New Mexico by imposing security fees that (A) represent an exercise of unbridled discretion and (B) effectuate a heckler’s veto,” Barham wrote. “Thus, these fees should be rescinded.”

The letter is the latest part of a dispute that began in April when the school asked for the fees prior to SFLA President Kristan Hawkins’ April 24 speech.

ADF originally told The College Fix on Oct. 16 it is waiting for a response from UNM. The group said on Oct. 27 it still had not received a response from the public university.

Barham told The Fix via a media statement he “hope[s] [UNM] will respect free speech by rescinding the security fees.”

“Universities have a responsibility to protect the speech of all students, and by charging Students for Life over $5,000 in security fees, the University of New Mexico is violating that responsibility,” Barham said.

UNM chief communications officer Cinnamon Blair told The Fix the school followed school policy and that it even sent some officers home to save SFLA money due to the peaceful nature of the event.

MORE: Pitt withdraws $18K security fee for Knowles event

The campus group approved the quote prior to the event, Blair told The Fix. ADF said the group had to approve it otherwise their event could not move forward.

Blair said further:

UNM greatly appreciates UNM-SFL’s willingness to operate as a partner with regard to the planned event and take responsibility for assisting UNM in hosting an event in a manner that does not violate the constitutionally protected rights of others or pose a danger to anyone on campus.

The university said its estimate of fees was based “on the size and type of event” and “on the information provided by UNM-SFL to the UNM police department.”

“The ultimate charge, following the event, was based on the security deployed and deemed necessary by the incident commander on the date of the event,” Blair said. “Due to the lower than expected turnout, several officers were sent home early and the resulting charge was approximately one-third less than the projected fee.”

She said the university “embraces the opportunity to learn from each event on campus and is committed to continuously reviewing and improving its processes and policies” in order “to ensure all events on campus are carried out in accordance with University policies and applicable law.”

The school said it did not practice viewpoint discrimination and campus police “took reasonable actions to protect all persons exercising their constitutional rights to speak.”

ADF said the university can change its policy to better protect free speech.

“Universities have a duty to protect the speech of all students and should not force clubs to pay security fees simply because they have critics who might misbehave,” Barham told The Fix. “And they especially should not bill a student group for 30 officers assigned to an unprotested event.”

MORE: Pro-life student group wins official status after two-year battle

IMAGE: Students for Life/YouTube

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About the Author
Marshelle Paulino -- Franciscan University of Steubenville