The University of Washington College Republicans (UWCRs) filed a lawsuit late Tuesday in an attempt to order the university to waive or reduce a $17,000 fee in security costs for an upcoming event on Feb. 10 with Patriot Prayer, a right-wing conservative Christian group.
“The imposition of a $17,000 security fee for a Saturday afternoon event featuring an evangelical Christian speaker is remarkable,” the lawsuit states. “But UW Seattle justifies it only on the basis of an unconstitutional heckler’s veto, in essence, rewarding members of society so intolerant of and hostile to hearing views they find objectionable they must threaten and/or commit violence to protect themselves from such views.”
The lawsuit continues to refer to the security assessment as a “draconian and unreasonable security fee.”
Bill Becker, the club’s lawyer from law firm Freedom X, confirmed on Monday that the club would be filing for both a temporary restraining order commanding the university to waive or substantially reduce its security fee based on content- and viewpoint-neutral factors and to issue an event permit, as well as an additional lawsuit asking for an order declaring the UW’s security policy unconstitutional in violation of the First and 14th Amendments. Freedom X is a non-profit public interest law firm with a mission of protecting conservative and religious freedom.
In January 2017, the UWCRs invited Milo Yiannopoulos, the controversial Breitbart News Network editor whose offensive marks have been called sexist and racist and have gotten him suspended from Twitter, to speak on Inauguration Day. UWPD and Seattle Police Department were present on the day as counter-protesters and supporters clashed in the hours leading up to the event, resulting in the shooting of local activist Josh Dukes. The event ended up costing UWPD more than $20,000.
As a result of the event requiring additional security, the university adopted a “Safety and Security Protocols for Events” policy. The policy states that the university will perform an analysis of event factors that could result in additional requirements and conditions placed on the host organization. Such safety and security concerns may include, but are not limited to, “history or examples of violence, bodily harm, property damage,” among others.
The policy also states that the host organization is responsible for making the UW aware of “any known histories or issues of safety and security concerns,” and the host group “will be required to pay costs of reasonable event security as determined in advance by the university.”
The $17,000 security cost estimate was provided to UWCR president Chevy Swanson by UWPD Patrol Commander Craig Wilson on Feb. 1. In response, Freedom X sent a letter to UW President Ana Mari Cauce on Feb. 2 requesting that the university waive or substantially reduce the $17,000 fee, claiming that the university’s actions “violate fundamental principles of free speech, equal protection, and due process guaranteed by the United States Constitution, and will not be tolerated.” The letter requested a response from the UW no later than 5 p.m. on Monday.
The UW’s official response “respectfully disagreed with the analysis” articulated with the letter, stating that the university is “dedicated to the maintenance and expression of free inquiry.” It continued to state that the university handles events on a content neutral basis, the security assessment is limited to this specific event, and that the UW “must insist that the assessed security fee be paid.”
A statement from UWPD Chief John Vinson reiterated similar concerns as the official university response, stating that the UWPD determines the estimated costs for security at events on an individual basis and these estimates are solely based on objective criteria, including an analysis of violence and threats to the public by the invited speaker, attendees at previous events or the sponsoring group, as well as the date, time, and location of the proposed event.
“Security cost estimates are not based on a speaker or group’s ideology or political position,” Vinson said.
While the UWCRs were provided with a $17,000 estimate for security costs at the event, UWPD believes the final cost is likely to exceed that number. The security costs for UWPD at the Yiannopoulos event last year exceed $20,000, but the club was only asked to pay $9,000, according to Swanson.
“UWPD is committed to providing a safe environment that allows speakers, their hosts, and other to be heard, but the university cannot continue to bear the significant costs associated with such events,” Vinson said.
Several student groups have planned to counterprotest the on-campus presence of Patriot Prayer.
On the Facebook page for one of the counter-protests, UW Stands In Solidarity Against Hate, a number of campus organizations have signed onto a statement that reads, “We … have a shared understanding and commitment to confront racism, sexism, xenophobia, and all other forms of discrimination and oppression on our campus and in our community.”
The Daily will continue to follow this story as it develops.
Reach News Editor Molly Quinton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @molly_quinton