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UCLA backs down from free speech confrontation

Ignacio Andrade/Flickr Creative Commons

The University of California, Los Angeles said on Friday that it will not charge the Bruin Republicans student group a fee for a November 13 campus event featuring controversial conservative speaker Ben Shapiro.

The Bruin Republicans had protested the potential fee – charged if more than 30 percent of the audience is from outside the campus – as a tax on their free speech.

“Given UCLA’s commitment to free speech, and to avoid any appearance to the contrary,” said campus spokesman Tod Tamberg in an email, “UCLA has decided to also pay the basic security costs for this event. UCLA will be adopting this approach going forward while it reviews its current policy to ensure that it continues to be a useful planning tool for UCLA and registered student organizations.”

The decision came four days after a letter sent to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block by lawyers for the Bruin Republicans called the campus policy unconstitutional and demanded the fee be rescinded.

“What the university is doing, really, is taxing or financially burdening the Bruin Republicans’ viewpoints by making them pay for security and not requiring the same for other student groups,” said Tyson Langhofer, a lawyer for the Alliance for Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based Christian non-profit group.

UCLA is the second Southern California university this year to say it would not charge conservative student groups hosting firebrand conservative speakers on campus after students challenged the fees.

Shapiro, a former Breitbart News editor, has become a lightning rod because of his support of President Donald Trump, his criticism of Black Lives Matter, and harsh attacks on liberal activists.

Last year a student chapter of the conservative group Young America’s Foundation at California State University, Los Angeles had also been charged a fee by administrators when they invited Shapiro to speak on campus. Administrators then told organizers they were cancelling the speech. The speech went on anyway. Students and faculty tried to block people from entering the venue.

The Alliance for Defending Freedom helped the Cal State L.A. student group sue the university in February of this year alleging its policies violated First Amendment free speech protections. CSULA settled the lawsuit by agreeing to drop the security fees and committing not to cancel or stop campus events based on the speakers’ point of view.

UCLA told members of the Bruin Republicans that they would not be charged a security fee for their event during a scheduled meeting on Thursday to review planning for the Nov. 13 event.

Langhofer said the student group was not available to comment but the members want a peaceful event that includes productive dialogue.

Shapiro’s UCLA speech is titled “Rise of Campus Fascism” and explores increasing intolerance towards freedom of speech on college campuses.

CORRECTION:  A previous version of this story said that Shapiro cut short his 2016 CSULA speech. He did not. KPCC regrets the error.