FIRE: CMU's refusal to protect Horowitz's safety is unconstitutional

FIRE: CMU's refusal to protect Horowitz's safety is unconstitutional


MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (Oct. 10, 2008) – Central Michigan University President Michael Rao has been warned by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education legal advocacy group that the school's refusal to provide police protection and event security for a speech by nationally-known commentator David Horowitz is unconstitutional and opens the school up to federal litigation. 

University Events and CMU Police claim policy requires Campus Conservatives, the event's organizers, to pay hundreds of dollars to guarantee the safety of Horowitz, who has received death threats and been physically attacked at previous speaking engagements, and the public attending the speech on radical Islamic terrorism. 

FIRE sent Rao a letter Friday that advised the school is acting unconstitutionally if they don't reverse their stance against keeping Horowitz and the public hoping to hear from him safe from those making threats of intimidation and physical violence.

"CMU is imposing unconstitutional restrictions on the right of students to freely express themselves and exchange ideas," said Campus Conservatives spokesman Dennis Lennox. "Students should be able to come together to discuss critical issues without having to pay hundreds of dollars to be safe from hooligans."

The school's stance is unconstitutional under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1992. It also conflicts with past practice, as CMU has routinely provided campus police officers free of charge for security at events. 

"It is ... unclear why CMU has decided to charge YAF for security now," FIRE wrote in its letter to Rao. "Perhaps the most likely explanation is that David Horowitz has a reputation as a controversial speaker and often provokes strong reactions from those that disagree with his political views."

In the case of Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob."

"Forcing students to pay for the right to have a discussion on campus gives a veto to hecklers and thugs who was disrupt events in the university community," said Lennox. "These hooligans will be able to turn violent and shut down events because student organizers can't afford to pay for their safety."

Campus Conservatives contacted FIRE for assistance after CMU was unwilling to guarantee public safety at Horowitz's appearance on campus. He is scheduled to deliver a speech entitled "Stop the Jihad on Campus" at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Plachta Auditorium.

This isn't the first time FIRE has held CMU accountable for violating the constitutional rights of students. In FIRE's ranking of universities, the school has a "red light" warning for restricting the rights of students.

In 2007, the school was forced to change its policy prohibiting belief-based student organizations from excluding members who don't share the same beliefs. School administrators had said conservative groups couldn't stop liberals from joining, just as homosexual groups would be required to accept homophobic students as members.

CMU was also challenged by FIRE shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when employees in dorms banned the American flag from being displayed by students.

Campus Conservatives is the CMU chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, which was founded in 1960 by the late William F. Buckley Jr. and is the country's oldest, largest and most active conservative youth organization. The YAF National Advisory Board includes Vice President Dick Cheney, former Vice President Dan Quayle, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former U.S. Sen. George Allen. 

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