Pro-Life Group Freed from Speech Tax


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 To MTSU’s credit, it quickly rescinded the fee requirement after receiving a letter from the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.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.


3 Responses to “Pro-Life Group Freed from Speech Tax”

  1. James Walsh Says:

    It appears to me that there is a “not” missing in the description of the case that the Supreme Court issued its ruling in connection with. Did the case that the Supreme Court reviewed actually take the position that “Government officials could require–or set the amount of–security fees based on whether or not hey like the applicant’s message”? Seems like that would have been shot down long before it got to the Supreme Court.

    • Joseph Martins Says:

      James–The omission of the word “not” was intentional. I was trying to communicate that the reason the Supreme Court invalidated the security fee policy was precisely because the policy empowered the governmental entity to discriminate based on the content and viewpoint of the applicant’s speech. The First Amendment does not tolerate policies that grant the government such unbridled discretion. Because MTSU’s policy had this same deficiency, ADF had to intervene to protect PLC’s freedom of speech.

  2. ADF Alliance Alert » David French: Pro-life speech and the heckler’s veto Says:

    […] David French, Director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, writing at Phi Beta Cons: “Last semester, Middle Tennessee State University informed the Pro-Life Collegians (PLC) that they could not host a traveling pro-life display without first paying a substantial security fee. Over at the Alliance Defense Fund’s Academic Freedom File, Joe Martins tells the story.” […]

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