University of Michigan Hit for Overcharging Pro-Life Group

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 16, 2011   |   7:19PM   |   Ann Arbor, MI

The Alliance Defense Fund sent a letter Monday to the University of Michigan over what it says are unconstitutional fees it assessed to a pro-life student group after it sponsored a speaking event with Dr. Alveda King, the pro-life niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Students for Life hosted a two-part speaking event featuring King in October. Upon learning that a few students opposed to King’s views planned to protest at the event, the university insisted on providing Department of Public Safety officers even though Students for Life believed such security was unnecessary.

Approximately 250 people attended the evening portion of the King event. Only four or five pro-abortion protesters showed up and no incidents occurred at that time or at the invitation-only breakfast the following morning. Yet, following the event,  the university billed Students for Life more than $800 for the security personnel despite the group’s objections.

“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,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French. “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 ADF letter explains: “The Supreme Court has made clear that the government may not charge speakers for the security costs driven by listeners’ response to that speech.”

Quoting the 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.’”

The letter asks the university to relieve Students for Life of the security costs immediately and change or eliminate university policies “so that the group does not suffer from similar speech-prohibiting cost burdens going forward.”

Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America, commented on the dustup.

“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,” she told “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,” Hawkins continued. “It is unfair to place these sorts of undo burdens on SFL groups simply because they express an opinion unpopular with their administration.”