This past week, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Christian legal group, sent a letter to administration officials at the University of Michigan contesting what it called "unconstitutional fees" assessed to a pro-life student group on campus.
An event held by U of M's Students for Life chapter last fall hosted Dr. Alveda King, the pro-life niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event drew moderate protests from some students on campus and campus officials insisted the pro-life group have campus safety officers on-hand even though Students for Life believed such security was unnecessary.
Dr. King spoke to a crowd of about 250 students about why she's changed her opinion on abortion over the years and about her role as a civil rights activist. Following the event, the university billed Students for Life more than $800 for the security personnel despite the group’s objections.
The Alliance Defense Fund sent a letter Monday to university officials claiming such a charge is unconstitutional. “The Supreme Court has made clear that the government may not charge speakers for the security costs driven by listeners’ response to that speech,” the letter states.
Quoting the U.S. Supreme Court, the letter continues, “‘Speech cannot be financially burdened, anymore than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.’ This mandate is based on the principle that ‘the government may not regulate speech based on its substantive content or the message it conveys.’ Thus, when the University charges a speaker for the security presence necessary to control a potentially hostile audience, it runs afoul of this constitutional command, because ‘listeners’ reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation.’”
“Pro-life student groups should not be singled out to pay fees that others do not have to pay. The type of fee assessed to Students for Life has been repeatedly ruled unconstitutional,” ADF Senior Counsel David French said. “A very basic and clear constitutional principle is that the government cannot place this sort of price tag on free speech simply because that speech might offend somebody.”
The Alliance Defense Fund is requesting that the university relieve the student group of the security costs immediately and clarify university policies to better reflect the Supreme Court's ruling.
Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America, commented on the disputed charges.
“The University of Michigan has placed a massive financial burden on the University of Michigan Students for Life group just because the decided to bring a national pro-life Leader to campus,” Hawkins told LifeNews.com. “school has no right to charge the students for security they mandated they have.”
“No other group on campus has had the administration step in and force them to have security at an event. If the school felt it was that important to have security for Dr. King, against the opinion of the SFL campus group, then they should pay for it, not the students,” she concluded. “It is unfair to place these sorts of undo burdens on SFL groups simply because they express an opinion unpopular with their administration.”