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University of Washington settles lawsuit, agrees to pay Republican group $122,500

Joey Gibson (right), leader of the Patriot Prayer group, leads a march of dozens of people advocating the right to openly carry guns in public on May 20 in Seattle. After the University of Washington's branch of College Republicans invited Patriot Prayer on campus, they were hit with a $17,000 security fee. The College Republicans sued and won. (Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

The University of Washington has agreed to pay $122,500 in legal fees to Republican college group, and to revoke a policy that the group argued infringed on its First Amendment right to free speech.

Here's what you need to know

UW College Republicans planned a rally on Feb. 1 with the group Patriot Prayer. The college determined that the rally was a security risk, and demanded that the club pay $17,000 in security fees. This made the event unaffordable for the College Republicans, who argued that this amounted to suppression of their right to free speech.

District Court Judge Marsha Pechman blocked the school from forcing the group to pay the fee the day before the rally took place. However, this restraining order was only temporary.

So the College Republicans sued.

According to an advocacy firm representing the group, the university was charging “exorbitant event fees to provide increased security needed to thwart violent protests from leftwing political activists.”

Law professors from the school voiced their support

A group of 23 University of Washington law professors signed a letter in April asking the school to settle the lawsuit. The law professors did not necessarily agree with the message of Patriot Prayer or College Republicans, but they argued that “[t]he protections of the First Amendment are not limited to liberals, or conservatives, or people with good ideas.”

The Patriot Prayer rally in February was met with counterprotests that devolved into violence, but the professors argued that this was not a reason for the penalizing the group with a fee. They said that “the financial risk posed by potential fees of that magnitude would doubtless deter at least most student organizations from inviting a speaker likely to attract a hostile crowd.”

The president of the university's College Republicans chapter, Chevy Swanson, told The Seattle Times that he was surpised by the letter from the law professors.

“They put it out in a good, in-depth way that honestly helped our case a lot,” Swanson said.

What was the result?

The unveristy  has agreed to settle, and to rescind its policy. However, the agreement does still leave the school with the option of “creating a constitutionally permissible security fee for student events.”

The $122,500 that the school agreed to pay out will be divided between $115,000 for the nonprofit law and advocacy firm Freedom X and $7,500 to the Seattle-based law firm Ellis, Li & McKinstry.

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