The organizer of a college speaking tour by white nationalist Richard Spencer has sued Michigan State University for preventing Spencer from speaking there.
The organizer, Cameron Padgett, arguing that MSU violated Spencer’s free speech, has used similar lawsuits to pressure Auburn University and the University of Florida to allow Spencer on their campuses.
The MSU lawsuit, filed Sunday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, sought damages and a preliminary injunction preventing the school from banning Spencer
Kent Cassella, a spokesman for MSU, says the university decided to deny the request for space after speaking with law enforcement officials.
“The decision was made due to significant concerns about public safety in the wake of the tragic violence in Charlottesville,” he said in the emailed statement. “While we remain firm in our commitment to freedom of expression, our first obligation is to the safety and security of our students and our community."
Padgett said in the lawsuit that he had tried to rent a conference room at the campus Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center in August but was denied.
The National Policy Institute, described on its website as “an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity and future of people of European descent in the United States and around the world,” asked the East Lansing school about renting space to accommodate a speaker.
In rejecting Spencer, the school said it was committed to freedom of expression but that, given violence that had occurred recently in Charlottesville, the school was worried about the safety of students.
“While we remain firm in our commitment to freedom of expression, our first obligation is to the safety and security of our students and our community,” the school said in rejecting the request.
Spencer was scheduled to speak at a white nationalist rally in August in Charlottesville that ended in violence. A woman was killed after a car drove into counterprotesters.
Spencer alluded in August to the decision in Auburn when MSU turned him down.
Replying to a Detroit News request at the time for comment on Twitter, he said: “A clear precedent was set in the federal decision against Auburn,” referring to his win in federal court against Auburn University in Alabama.
Padgett, 23, a senior at Georgia State University, argued in the complaint that such concerns weren’t valid grounds for denying a speaker.
“(It) constitutes unconstitutional content discrimination in the form of a heckler’s veto,” he said in the lawsuit.
In a text message to the Associated Press on Sunday, Spencer said he fully supported the legal action.
“Cameron Padgett is a brave young man who has my full support,” he said.
In the earlier legal cases, Padgett won the legal fight to allow Spencer to speak at Auburn University in April. He also won $29,000 damages in the case.
He also convinced the University of Florida to change its mind and allow Spencer to speak there. The speaking engagement hasn’t been held yet.
In the MSU lawsuit, Padgett also wanted a judge to prohibit the school from forcing Spencer to pay for police protection or posting a bond or insurance for the event.
Also, he is asking for attorney fees and damages in excess of $75,000.
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