Free Speech Gets Expensive
When University of Washington’s College Republicans invited controversial activist Joey Gibson to speak, administrators gave them the OK—and sent them a $17,000 security bill. The student group sued Tuesday, and in an 11th-hour ruling Friday a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against the college, saying the bill “runs afoul [by] chilling speech.”
The free-speech rally will proceed Saturday on the university’s main plaza, the Red Square. Administrators are urging students to stay away for their own safety. University President Ana Mari Cauce said Friday that campus police have “credible information that groups from outside the UW community are planning to join the event with the intent to instigate violence.”
The threat is real. In 2017, when the College Republicans hosted alt-right parvenu Milo Yiannopolous, masked activists showed up to protest, while other nonstudents showed up to counter-protest. By the end of the night Joshua Dukes, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, was hospitalized with critical injuries. The woman charged with shooting him in the stomach, Elizabeth Hokoana, told law enforcement Mr. Dukes was wielding “a big knife” and was “about to gut my husband.” She and her husband have pleaded not guilty to assault.
That harrowing experience illustrates how essential it is that the University of Washington protects free speech. The open exchange of ideas is a core university mission. By sticking the hosts of a controversial speaker with the security bill, administrators are “rewarding members of society so intolerant of and hostile to hearing views they find objectionable that they must threaten and/or commit violence to protect themselves from such views,” the College Republicans argued in their complaint.
They know whereof they speak. After the Milo event, the university stuck College Republicans with a $9,121 bill. The group paid it with a GoFundMe campaign, but they couldn’t plan more events in 2017 because of the exorbitant security costs. The university failed to protect its minority-viewpoint students, then penalized them for exercising their rights.
The University of Washington is far from the first to use fees to price out controversial speech. Federal Judge Marsha Pechman set the right example by overturning the $17,000 fee in this instance, and we hope she’ll continue to protect the First Amendment as she weighs the case on the merits.