Pro-Life Collegians (PLC)—an active student organization at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU)—planned to bring a travelling, pro-life exhibit to campus this year. What PLC didn’t plan on, though, was having to pay for the right to speak.
While PLC was reserving space for the display, an MTSU official told PLC’s president that, “[g]iven the history with events such as this,” the group could hold the event only if it paid for security during the event. But PLC had previously sponsored similar pro-life displays at MTSU without incident. So this comment raised the very concern expressed by the Supreme Court when it reviewed security fees almost twenty years ago: Government officials could require—or set the amount of—security fees based on whether or not they like the applicant’s message. So the Court held that government officials cannot require Americans to pay a security fee in order to speak because that would essentially amount to a tax on the content of speech. And a tax on speech goes against the entire notion of free speech.
Although this is well-settled law at this point, public universities continue to apply such security fees to student organizations across the country. And, as the Supreme Court predicted, university officials apply these restrictions to exclude the speech they like the least—Christian and pro-life speech. To MTSU’s credit, it quickly rescinded the fee requirement after receiving a letter from the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. We hope more universities will follow MTSU’s example.