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Todd Herman

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In stinging defeat, UW pays nearly $130K to College Republicans

Patriot Prayer held a rally at UW, Feb. 10, 2018. It drew counter protesters. (KIRO 7)

It turns out it doesn’t pay to silence speech you disagree with. The University of Washington reached a settlement with the UW College Republicans after the student club sued to administration for imposing onerous security fees on the club, in a purported effort to silence speech the campus administration opposed.

“We are ecstatic to have reached a settlement with UW,” said Chevy Swanson, plaintiff and president of UW College Republicans. “This is a massive win for campus Conservative groups across the country because we have just proven that these battles can be won and we expect to start seeing every public university adopt new security fee policies like UW’s in the coming years. This next year is going to huge for us because for the first time in history we will be working under fair conditions and fair cost of operations.”

The UW Republicans hoped to host Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson for a campus event on Red Square last February. But under the threat of protest, the school required the club to spend $17,000 in fees for security. It was a policy, critics argued, that unfairly targets conservative groups since, historically, their events are subject to greater instances of Progressive students showing up to protest.

But the school claimed the policy has always existed and it doesn’t unfairly target conservative groups.

“It’s a not a new policy,” UW Chief of Police John Vinson told me on the Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH. “In our world, we don’t necessarily categorize the groups as conservative or liberal…”

RELATED: Several fights break out at Patriot Prayer rally at UW

Well, in the legal world, it was an unconstitutional speech policy that public institutions cannot institute. Soon after the lawsuit was filed, a federal judge prohibited the UW from collecting the security fees since, if the lawsuit moved forward, the UW Republican’s position would have likely prevailed.

That’s probably why the school settled the case, which sought to delegitimize the policy in full, so it could never be administered again.

Under the terms of the settlement, not only is this UW policy put to rest, no student groups will be charged security fees, according to the California-based firm Freedom X, which represented the club. The UW has also agreed to pay $127,000 in attorney fees.

While it’s a settlement, this is a stinging defeat for UW which put politics above First Amendment rights. Consequently, this should be celebrated by campus free speech advocates — regardless of your politics. The threat of a protest should never dictate security fees for events. Under the university’s policy, any time the UW College Republicans wanted to bring a speaker to campus, a fringe Progressive group can promise mass protests — without even following through — in order to force the school to impose prohibitively expensive security fees on the club. If you can’t afford the security, you’d have to cancel the event, which, of course, silences the speech.

From a legal standpoint, it strains credulity to believe the UW thought they’d be able to successfully defend this policy in the courts. It’s why free speech advocates quickly criticized the UW.

“A university should be in the business of fostering as much expression as possible,” Ari Cohn, from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (the FIRE), told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “[UW] can’t price certain speech out of the market because it’s controversial.”

In Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, the Supreme Court struck down an ordinance allowing a local government to require fees for events, based on how much security would be necessary. The FIRE cited this decision when castigating the University of Arizona for imposing a $384.72 fee on a Conservative speaker there. The court wrote: “Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.”

In 2014, Boise State attempted a similar policy before it was challenged. They ended up walking back their fees on a Conservative Young Americans for Liberty event.

“In this [UW] case, the left wing activists who call themselves antifascists have been taught a lesson in constitutional law and what freedom of speech really looks like,” Freedom X attorney William Becker said in a press release. “It is fascism — not antifascism — to storm a public university campus with the goal of forcing the cancellation of politically conservative events. The UW College Republicans stood up to them, and to a university that intentionally or not rewarded agitators through its discriminatory security fee policy. “

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