The University of Washington College Republicans group is suing the university after being asked to pay $17,000 in security fees for a conservative rally planned for this weekend.
“I gotta say it's a little ironic that our free speech rally is going to have to sue the University of Washington for our free speech, but we're willing to put our money where our mouth is and actually go to court to protect this,” said College Republicans President Chevy Swanson.
The “Freedom X” law firm, representing the College Republicans pro-bono, filed a complaint Tuesday evening calling the university’s policy unconstitutional and a tax on free speech.
A UW spokesman says the policy is not new and says security fees are assessed on a case-by-case basis based on several factors including violence at prior events involving the group or speakers.
The College Republicans’ invited guest this Saturday is Oregon activist Joey Gibson of the Patriot Prayer group. The same group visited Seattle in August and was met with controversy and counter-protesters. The scene that day appeared tense but remained largely peaceful, overall.
However, that wasn’t the case in January of 2017 when controversial conservative Milo Yiannopolous visited campus for a talk at Kane Hall. Outside, violent protests broke out in Red Square; one person was even shot and wounded.
Security fees for that day ended up at more than $70,000 between UW police and Seattle police. Swanson says his group paid around $9,000 in security costs for that event. Since then, UW says it clarified its existing policies around security assessments.
“Being proactive in reviewing our practices is prudent and, in this case, is what students, parents, and taxpayers in the state should expect as we protect both the rights of free expression and the safety of our community,” said spokesman Victor Balta.
Balta adds that student groups have the option of paying the fee before or after the event.
“UW remains committed to providing a secure space for speakers, their hosts, and other attendees,” Balta continued.
However, the UW College Republicans suit calls the policy as applied unreasonable “with the effect of chilling, marginalizing or banning the expression of conservative viewpoints.”
“It goes completely against the idea that the school is supposed to be a ground for free speech, a place for intellectual honesty,” said Swanson. “I think they’re trying to avoid that by trying to say controversy needs to be shut down or not our responsibility.”
An attorney for Swanson says a court hearing in the case could be scheduled as early as Thursday morning.