A public university in New Mexico has been accused of wrongfully compelling a pro-life student group to pay a security fee of more than $5,400 for an event, with critics claiming that the charge was unconstitutional.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group, sent a letter to the University of New Mexico last week accusing them of wrongfully charging their Students for Life chapter a $5,461.40 security fee for an event held in April.
“We write to insist that the University rescind this bill, as it represents an unconstitutional viewpoint-based fee,” wrote Travis Barham, senior counsel at ADF, in the letter.
According to the letter, the pro-life student group invited Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, to give a lecture on campus at an event titled “Lies Pro-Choicers Believe.”
In advance of the event, SFL leaders met with campus police, who estimated that the security fee for the lecture would cost around $7,000, but that the estimate could go down based on how things turned out at the event.
“As it turned out, Ms. Hawkins’ lecture generated no security issues. Unlike the prior events Lt. Stump relied on for his quotes, there were no threats regarding this event and no advertisements urging people to protest. When Ms. Hawkins spoke, there were no protestors and few (if any) security issues,” explained Barham.
“Nevertheless, days later, the University sent the student group a bill for $5,461.40 because the University chose to assign no less than thirty officers to this unprotested event.”
Barham argued that the security fee requirement “violated the First Amendment rights of Students for Life of America and Students for Life at the University of New Mexico by imposing security fees that (A) represent an exercise of unbridled discretion and (B) effectuate a heckler’s veto.”
“Some might consider Student for Life’s pro-life views controversial, but this is the reason for granting the speech more protection, not for charging it higher fees,” he added. “After all, to exclude or burden speech because some deem it controversial is nothing more than viewpoint discrimination.”
In a statement released by ADF last Wednesday, SFLA President Hawkins was quoted as saying that students who are pro-life “should not be forced to pay a free speech fine.”
“The trend of schools using fees and security costs as a deterrent to pro-life student activity is not only unconstitutional, it contradicts the very nature of education itself, in which educators are supposed to bring ideas and people together for an informed and constructive debate,” she stated.
The Christian Post reached out to the University of New Mexico for a response, with spokesperson Cinnamon Blair providing a statement via email explaining that the “security policy is clearly stated and applied and is not based on the viewpoint of a proposed speaker.”
“UNM encourages its student groups to sponsor events on campus and provides extensive staff resources to aid their endeavors. In this case, UNMPD took reasonable actions to protect all persons exercising their constitutional rights to speak,” read the statement.
“As a public institution of higher education, UNM embraces the opportunity to learn from each event on campus and is committed to continuously reviewing and improving its processes and policies to ensure all events on campus are carried out in accordance with University policies and applicable law.”
The university statement pointed out that because of “the lower than expected turnout, several officers were sent home early and the resulting charge was approximately one-third less than the projected fee.”
“UNM greatly appreciates UNM-SFL’s willingness to operate as a partner with regard to the planned event and take responsibility for assisting UNM in hosting an event in a manner that does not violate the constitutionally protected rights of others or pose a danger to anyone on campus,” the statement added.
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