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University of Cincinnati sued by white nationalist for 'cost-prohibitive' speech fee

Posted at 9:13 AM, Jan 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-09 15:07:31-05

CINCINNATI -- The University of Cincinnati is being sued over a “cost-prohibitive” speech fee for white nationalist Richard Spencer.

Kyle Bristow, who represents Spencer and the man organizing Spencer's campus speaking tour, filed the federal lawsuit late Monday night.

Tour organizer Cameron Padgett, who lives in Georgia, alleges the university asked him to pay too much for security for the March 14 event. He wants $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.”

According to the lawsuit, UC wants to charge a $500 room rental fee and $10,833 security fee for Spencer's appearance. For comparison, Spencer's group wrote a check for $10,564 to cover rental fees and some security costs at the University of Florida. The school itself spent about $600,000 on security. (Records show that check from Spencer's group bounced; a university spokeswoman told the Gainesville Sun the group then paid by wire transfer.)

"The fee assessed is a mere fraction of the costs we anticipate incurring as a result of this event, but we hold firm in our efforts to respect the principles of free speech while maintaining safety on campus," said Greg Vehr, University of Cincinnati vice president of Government Relations and University Communications.

White nationalists are a group of militant whites who espouse white supremacy and advocate enforced racial segregation.   

UC's Public Safety Department says it bases security decisions on a variety of factors, including whether the event or speaker is controversial. Padgett and Bristow argued that's the problem: that UC is tying the cost to what Spencer has to say.

"A price tag cannot be affixed to the fundamental right of free speech," said Bristow. "A speech tax does not comport with the United States Constitution and will not whatsoever be tolerated by my client."

RELATED: White nationalist to speak at University of Cincinnati during spring break

The lawsuit blames "violent left-of-center political terrorists" for increased security needs. Another right-wing provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos, had his speech at the University of California, Berkeley canceled after protests turned violent. In Florida, however, reports indicate the most serious violence came from Spencer's supporters: One of them shot at protesters "with the intent to kill," police said. He and two other men were charged with attempted murder.

WCPO has asked UC for rental and security fees charged to all on-campus events over the past six months, to give more context to what Padgett is being charged. We'll update this story when we receive that information.

In October 2017, the University of Cincinnati agreed to allow Spencer to exercise his right to free speech and speak on the campus this school year, uninvited. The school’s president pledged that the safety and security of the campus community would be the top priority.

Spencer’s legal team filed a similar lawsuit against the Ohio State University. UC did not immediately issue a response to the filing.

WCPO leaders have spent considerable time discussing how to cover Richard Spencer's visit to UC. To share your views on this topic, contact us through our Feedback Friday feature or email