The Stanford Anscombe Society (SAS) is pleased to report that the administration has “found” sufficient funds to subsidize the full cost of security at our upcoming Communicating Values conference.
The news came less than 24 hours after the Stanford Anscombe Society’s submission of a letter to Provost John W. Etchemendy in which the SAS requested that the security fee be removed since it imposed a tax on free speech. Nanci Howe, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Activities and Leadership (SAL), emailed the Anscombe student leaders with the news: “Hi everyone. Found more funds to subsidize the full cost of the security. ”
“We are delighted that Stanford University has demonstrated its continuing commitment to free speech by providing appropriate security for our event, rather than forcing us to pay for our own safety on campus,” said Judy Romea, SAS co-president.
“Since we no longer face this financial burden which had forced us to scale back the conference and cancel some speakers’ sessions, we are considering whether and how to revise the schedule so we can host the conference as originally planned and even open up certain sessions to the entire Stanford community. We are really grateful for the administration’s continuing support as we move forward,” continued Romea.
Judy Romea, you and your people are a credit to courage, civility, and the principles of free speech and liberalism. Well done!
Stanford University is a private school, but California’s Leonard Law applies the First Amendment to Stanford. So under California law, a private school cannot deny funding to a student activity simply because the university doesn’t like the message. In order to shut up these traditional marriage advocates, then, the GSC has had to be creative, and use legal “magic words”—in this case, claiming that Anderson and others are a “threat” to students that disagree with their views.
Just calling speech you don’t like a “threat” doesn’t make that speech a “threat” for the purposes of the First Amendment, however. As the Supreme Court said in Virginia v. Black(2003), true threats are those statements where a “speaker means to communicate serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.” Does this sound like Ryan Anderson? Of course not. But thin-skinned student agitators can manufacture a sham threat with the barest of justifications.
Furthermore, the $5000 fee to provide for security at the event is also unlawful. Ginning up unnecessary fees is a typical tactic that public universities and other governmental entities use when the First Amendment stops them from directly prohibiting certain speech. However, it’s a tactic that doesn’t work. In Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992), the Supreme Court struck down held a security fee regime for parade permits, and noted: “Listeners’ reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation…. Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.”
Again, California’s Leonard Law would compel a California court to apply Forsyth County and invalidate Stanford’s scheme, allowing any student enrolled at Stanford University to sue in California court to compel the GSC to fund the SAS event, and to obtain attorney’s fees. Whether they do the right thing and fund the SAS event, or whether they pay for all the court costs, Stanford University will likely be footing the bill.