Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing UB Students for Life filed a federal lawsuit last week against the University at Buffalo for charging the group security fees in order to exercise its freedom of speech.
Earlier this year, UB Students for Life sponsored a debate on the morality of abortion. UB administrators deemed the event “controversial” and required the group to have UB Police at the event. When it was all said and done, UB charged the group nearly $650 in security fees.
As is usually the case with university policies regulating “controversial” speech, UB has no guidelines for such a designation and leaves it to the whim of officials, a practice that the U.S. Supreme Court has found to be unconstitutional in other cases. In fact, UB did not assess such fees to another campus group holding a debate between a Christian and atheist in the same building at the same time.
No major disruptions occurred at the abortion debate, which approximately 225 people attended. One police officer was found reading a newspaper outside the lecture hall during the debate. The total bill to UB Students for Life was $649.63, about $150 more than the entire amount of funding that UB Students for Life receives from the Student Association each year. The fees will cause UB Students for Life to cancel some of the expressive activities it had planned for this year.
Public universities should encourage, not stifle, the free exchange of ideas. UB arbitrarily decided to deem an event “controversial” and then weighed down students with burdensome fees to engage in constitutionally protected free speech. Students shouldn’t have to pays these fees in the first place, but UB took matters one step further by vesting administrators with unbridled discretion to punish speech they disagree with.
We will keep you posted as the case develops.