CLEVELAND (AP) – A conservative advocacy group suing Kent State University officials argues the Ohio school is impeding free speech with a $1,800 fee to provide security for a planned gun-rights discussion at the student center.
In a lawsuit this week, Liberty Hangout alleged its student club at Kent State is being treated unfairly because of its viewpoints. It argued the fee for eight police officers and six guards at the Nov. 19 event amounts to censorship.
The club’s lawyer argued university officials are “ratifying an unconstitutional heckler’s veto” by charging for beefed-up security because of concerns that opponents of the group’s message might protest and threaten or cause violence. The lawsuit seeks to stop Kent State from enforcing its security fee policies and described the policies as unconstitutionally vague.
The university won’t comment on the lawsuit, but a lawyer representing the school in the matter previously told Liberty Hangout’s attorney that the fees are based on an objective review of security needs and the process is “viewpoint neutral.”
The planned Nov. 19 event features advocate Kaitlin Bennett, an alumna who helped organize a demonstration in support of gun-rights in September. Kent State spent about $65,000 on security for that event and the resulting counter-protest, which were monitored by hundreds of law enforcement officers and turned out to be mostly peaceful but resulted in a few arrests.
The university paid for security then because, unlike the upcoming event, that demonstration wasn’t arranged by a student group.
The Kent State conflict isn’t the first time security fees charged by an Ohio college campus has led to litigation and claims of unconstitutional treatment. A tour organizer for white nationalist Richard Spencer sued the University of Cincinnati earlier this year when it required a security fee of nearly $11,000 for his planned speech there. Spencer never ended up speaking there, and the organizer dropped the lawsuit.
Spencer’s side also filed and then dropped a lawsuit against Ohio State University when it refused to book him and cited public safety concerns.