The University of Pittsburgh demanded that conservative students pay $18,734 in security and damage fees after a mob of 250 leftist protesters rioted at their scheduled event, according to a demand letter submitted to the school by Alliance Defending Freedom.
On April 18, student groups Intercollegiate Studies Institute and University of Pittsburgh’s College Republicans chapter hosted a moderated debate between the Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles and BASED Politics co-founder Brad Polumbo.
The debate was titled “Should Transgenderism Be Regulated by Law?” The event included an audience question-and-answer session and a meet-and-greet.
The College Republicans planned the event months in advance, following all university policies and procedures, according to the ADF.
The university initially informed ISI that the event would cost $2,000 in security fees, ADF’s demand letter explained. However, as the date neared, the costs increased substantially, the legal firm stated.
On May 19, ISI was told that security fees amounted to over $18,000. On June 1, the university demanded that the group “process this transfer very soon.”
ADF insisted that school officials encouraged students to protest the debate.
On March 10, the university issued a press release referring to the event as “toxic and hurtful for many people in our University community.” Approximately a week later, Provost Ann Cudd called one of Knowles’ recent speeches “repugnant” and “hate-filled rhetoric.”
A few days before the scheduled event, a university professor told students that “[t]he Theatre Arts department, along with many other departments, students, faculty, and staff at Pitt, strongly condemns this event and has called on the University to cancel Knowles’ appearance due to his history of spreading hate speech and inciting violence against trans people.”
Failing to get the scheduled debate canceled, the professor then urged students to attend “several events planned for Tuesday April 18 in response to Knowles’ unwelcome presence on campus.”
According to the legal firm, hundreds of rioters filled the street “within striking distance of attendees.”
“This proximity allowed the mob to throw smoke bombs and other incendiary devices into the crowd, as well as using a road flare to burn an effigy of Knowles. That action prevented the police from keeping the O’Hara Student Center free of threats, and it ultimately caused Pitt police to urge ISI to end the event before it concluded because the situation was ‘deteriorating,'” ADF wrote in its demand letter to the university.
ADF Senior Counsel Philip A. Sechler called the university’s security fee “prohibitively expensive speech—not free speech.”
“It’s bad enough that the University of Pittsburgh charged ISI and College Republicans an outrageous and unconstitutional security fee simply out of fear about how others might react to a particular viewpoint,” Sechler stated. “But it’s worse that the university also encouraged students to disrupt the event and shut it down. This is exactly the type of suppression the First Amendment forbids. Implementing such security fees as part of an attempt to shut down a legitimate campus event 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 it. We urge Pitt officials to swiftly rescind this unlawful fee and amend their policies to protect every student’s freedom of speech.”
ISI President Johnny Burtka called the riot a “tragedy.”
“The university violated this sacred trust by inciting a riot that threatened the lives and liberties of students peacefully assembled to discuss and debate ideas. This dereliction of duty is unacceptable in a free society, and ISI will fight to ensure it never happens again,” Burtka said.
The University of Pittsburgh did not respond to a request for comment, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported.
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