UW settles suit by conservative student group over 'draconian' security fee

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    SEATTLE - The University of Washington has settled a lawsuit brought by a conservative student group that claimed it was being singled out to pay a "draconian and unreasonable" $17,000 security fee to host a campus event.

    Under the terms of the settlement, UW officials have agreed to stop charging the University of Washington College Republicans or any other student group a security fee for campus events - even if extra police will be needed to deal with violent protesters or counter-protesters.

    The UW also agreed to pay $115,000 to Freedom X, a nonprofit law and advocacy firm that defended the UW College Republicans, and $7,500 to the Seattle law firm of Ellis, Li & McKinstry, who assisted in the case.

    In the lawsuit, the College Republicans alleged that a university policy unfairly discriminated against them and other politically conservative campus groups by charging exorbitant event fees to provide increased security needed to thwart violent protests from opposing political activists.

    Specifically, in February 2018, the university told the conservative student group that it would be charged a $17,000 fee for increased security during an on-campus appearance by Joey Gibson, founder of Patriot Prayer, a conservative Christian organization.

    The university justified the security fee by saying that Gibson had a history of being targeted by violent protesters, and that enhanced security would be needed to deal with that possibility during his UW appearance.

    The College Republicans and their president, Chevy Swanson, filed the lawsuit and were granted an emergency order from U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman blocking the UW from assessing the fee.

    During the Feb. 10 rally, both Patriot Prayer supporters and counter-protesters clashed, and five arrests were made.

    After the Feb. 10 event, the College Republicans continued to push for a permanent injunction against the UW through their lawsuit. Months later, UW officials agreed to settle the lawsuit, avoiding a permanent injunction.

    Under terms of the settlement, the UW agrees to no longer charge security fees to student groups that sponsor campus events or speakers.

    Additionally, the new policy prohibits UW from assessing fees "based on the content or viewpoint of a speaker’s speech or based on the community’s reaction or expected reaction to an invited speaker."

    Bill Becker, Freedom X president and general counsel, said the university had no choice but to resolve the lawsuit early in light of the court's ruling that the security fee policy chilled free speech.

    UW officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the settlement.

    But the university earlier issued a statement defending the security fee, which said, in part: "The UW will comply with the terms of (Judge Pechman's) temporary restraining order, but this legal process is ongoing and we will continue to advocate for charging reasonable security fees to campus groups based on objective criteria."

    “We maintain that this cost should not be covered by other students’ tuition dollars,” said UW spokesperson Victor Balta in an earlier statement before the settlement was reached.

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