When free speech is expensive

This Saturday, the University of Washington College Republicans are bringing in a speaker from a right-wing group called Patriot Prayer, amidst protests by campus groups. The president of the university has warned people to stay away from the area for the entire day because the university has information that people are coming with the explicit purpose of instigating violence. Now, it also turns out, according to an article in the University of Washington’s Daily newspaper, that the College of Republicans is also suing because the University is imposing a fee of $17,000 to provide security. That is some expensive free speech!

Last year, on January 20th, when a protester was shot (by somebody who came to the university, with a gun, with the intent to use it, at an event sponsored by the College Republicans) he and his family and community paid dearly for medical costs. He almost died. This was free speech for the wealthy and powerful speaker, who wasn’t even a UW student, but expensive on many levels for everyone else.

In a free society, who should bear these costs?

Let’s suppose the College Republicans has to pay the $17,000 for security. I assume they could. But most student groups couldn’t, which in practice means they wouldn’t be allowed the same free speech rights as the College Republicans.

Something’s wrong here, not only with the situation, but also the way we’re all thinking about free speech. I have this to say to antifa activists regarding the “No Platform” strategy:  right now, it is the wrong tool for the job. More powerful and constitutionally defensible tools exist. For instance: what if every campus group demanded $17,000 for the combined costs of bringing out a speaker and paying for security? A call for “Equal Platform” — now, that would be free speech.

Above all else though . . . folks, be safe out there on Saturday.


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