CINCINNATI — White nationalist Richard Spencer’s campus tour organizer is suing the University of Cincinnati’s president, saying the school wouldn’t rent space for Spencer to speak on campus unless a nearly $11,000 security fee was paid.
An attorney for Spencer and tour organizer Cameron Padgett said requiring such payment because a speaker is controversial or prompts hostile reaction is discriminatory and unconstitutional. The federal lawsuit filed Monday seeks $2 million in damages for allegedly violating free speech rights, attorney fees, and an order requiring the school to rent the space for a “reasonable fee.”
The school calls the fee “a mere fraction” of its anticipated security costs.
“We hold firm in our efforts to respect the principles of free speech while maintaining safety on campus,” UC spokesman Greg Vehr said.
His statement said Spencer wasn’t invited or sponsored by anyone affiliated with the school. He said UC and its legal team will review the lawsuit for a response in court. It names UC President Neville Pinto as the defendant.
The university announced in October that it would allow Spencer to speak. At the time, UC’s board of trustees condemned hate, but cited the fundamental right to free speech at a public university.
Attorney Kyle Bristow announced later that the visit was planned for March 14, during spring break, but UC had said there was no contract yet.
Authorities estimated security costs at $600,000 for Spencer’s Oct. 19 appearance at the University of Florida, where counter-protesters far outnumbered Spencer supporters and booed him off stage. Spencer was a scheduled speaker at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August that led to deadly violence when a man struck and killed a protester with his car.
The lawsuit blames “violent left-of-center political terrorists” for such high security costs for appearances by right-wing speakers.
“If security costs could be passed on … by universities to event organizers who espouse politically right-of-center political ideas, then such would result in de facto censorship insofar as fewer — or no — right-of-center political events could occur on American college campuses due to the massive security costs,” the lawsuit contends.
Spencer uses the term “alt-right” to describe a mix of racism, white nationalism and anti-immigration views.
Bristow has lawsuits pending against several other schools, including Ohio State University, for not allowing Spencer to speak.