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Texas university unconstitutionally charges conservative students $28K for event security

ADF attorneys represent Turning Point USA chapter in letter to University of Texas at Arlington

Tuesday, Apr 25, 2023

ARLINGTON, Texas – Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter Tuesday to the police department captain at the University of Texas at Arlington to inform him that the $28,600 the university charged Turning Point USA for security fees at two small campus events violated the student group’s First Amendment rights. ADF attorneys represent the TPUSA chapter after UTA officials unconstitutionally charged the conservative student group the high security fees following their events and without TPUSA’s prior consent on the cost.

“Charging over $28,000 for two small events is prohibitively expensive speech—not free speech,” said ADF Senior Counsel Caleb Dalton. “The University of Texas at Arlington charged TPUSA outrageous security fees for two small campus events simply because of fear about how others might react to TPUSA’s speech. This is exactly the type of suppression the First Amendment forbids. Implementing such security fees is what’s known as a ‘heckler’s veto,’ an action which unconstitutionally allows those who oppose certain speech to censor it simply by protesting or threatening to protest. We urge UTA officials to rescind these unlawful charges quickly and amend their policies to protect every student’s freedom of speech.”

Last fall, TPUSA hosted a speaker to present a talk attended by about 50 people. Prior to the event, TPUSA discussed security concerns with a UTA police sergeant and campus administrators, and the campus police initially informed the student group that the event would require at least two off-duty officers, the charge of which is “historically…borne by the organization sponsoring the event.” TPUSA Vice President Carlos Turcios e-mailed the police sergeant asking for a quote for two officers for three hours, and the sergeant responded saying the rates were variable, but averaged $72.82 per hour per officer. Turcios and university representatives never agreed on the number of officers or that TPUSA would pay for any number of officers the university decided to send to the event.

Despite that, last month, Turcios received a bill from the university for $26,807 for “staffing costs allocated to your organization for the [November 10th] event.” A few weeks later, he received another bill for $1,844 for a subsequent event attended by about 20 students on the subject of combatting human trafficking. UTA officials determined the need and cost for security by subjectively evaluating possible actions in which protestors might engage—something completely beyond TPUSA’s control.

ADF notes in its letter that while “imposing security fees based on objective criteria regardless of the content of the speech might be permissible (e.g. every reservation no matter the content must pay, for example, $200), UTA does not have a set security fee for the use of College Hall Room 101. Nor does it have a set security fee based on the number of seats to be filled. The fee here … is based on subjective evaluations of how hecklers and protestors may respond to TPUSA’s speech. That is a content and viewpoint-based evaluation prohibited by the First Amendment.” The letter further explains that the Supreme Court has already held that the “‘decision [of] how much to charge for police protection . . . or even whether to charge at all’ cannot be left up to administrators, or their evaluation of how hecklers might respond to speech.”

The letter requests that UTA immediately rescind the charges and implement policies to prohibit viewpoint-based security fees to avoid potential legal action.

Dustin and Charles Fillmore, of The Fillmore Law Firm, L.L.P. in Fort Worth, are serving as local counsel on behalf of TPUSA. They’re two of more than 4,700 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network.

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to protecting First Amendment and related freedoms for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.

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ABOUT Caleb Dalton

Caleb Dalton serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom's Center for Life, where he brings over a decade of civil rights litigation and public advocacy experience to the team, securing the rights of the unborn and those who advocate for them. Since joining ADF, Dalton has served on multiple teams representing private individuals and government entities to affirm the fundamental freedoms of speech and religious liberty. With ADF's Center for Conscience Initiatives, he played a key role in the successful petition for certiorari in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission at the U.S. Supreme Court. With the Center for Academic Freedom, he successfully represented students and faculty seeking to speak freely on public university campuses across the country. Dalton earned a J.D. at the Regent University School of Law, graduating cum laude. He is a member of the bar in Arizona, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; he is also admitted to practice before multiple federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.