The College Republicans group says the University of Washington is violating its constitutional rights by demanding a $17,000 security fee for a campus rally this Saturday.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday evening, the group said the UW is attempting to stifle free speech.
The College Republicans have invited Joey Gibson, head of the conservative group Patriot Prayer, to speak in Red Square. Patriot Prayer rallies elsewhere have drawn large counter-protests.
The university says security fees have been assessed for campus events on many previous occasions and have ranged from hundreds of dollars to several thousand dollars.
“The event is not contingent upon the security fee being paid in advance. Student groups have the option of paying the security fee before or after an event. The UW believes this policy is fair,” the school said in a statement.
But attorney Bill Becker, who is representing the College Republicans, said the fee is unconstitutional.
"The university is charging an exorbitantly excessive fee to the College Republicans based on the fear that there will be violent disrupters at this event. No other group to our knowledge has ever been charged anything even close to that amount,” Becker said.
The lawsuit calls the fee “draconian and unreasonable,” and Becker said UW shouldn’t be allowed to pass on high security costs to the College Republicans because their views are unpopular.
The lawsuit claims the university’s process for estimating security fees has “the effect of chilling, marginalizing, or banning the expression of conservative viewpoints on the UW Seattle campus."
A statement from the UW chief of police says security fee estimates are based solely on objective criteria and “cost estimates are not based on a speaker or group’s ideology or political position.”
A statement from the University says security fees consider several factors, “including violence at prior events involving the group or speakers.”
The College Republicans hosted controversial right-wing figure Milo Yiannopoulos in January 2017.
Violent protests broke out at that event and one man was shot.
And last June, Evergreen State College was shut down for an afternoon over the prospect of confrontation between Patriot Prayer supporters and counter-protesters.
Becker said there are crowd control techniques and other ways to avoid violence at rallies.
“What the university is saying is, ‘Yeah, that’s possible. But it’s going to cost us too much money and we’re not willing to accept responsibility for those costs,’" he said.
"Our position is that they’re obligated to accept responsibility for those costs and cannot pass them on to the student organizations who are being discriminated against solely because of their viewpoint.”
The university said it’s committed to providing a safe environment to allow speakers and their hosts to be heard.
They say security fees are “necessary to ensure that the costs of hosting such events do not fall to other students and taxpayers in the state of Washington.”
UW says the fee covers the police officers needed to maintain a safe environment. Several student groups have planned to protest the College Republicans' event on Saturday.