Lawsuit Prepared Targeting University Of Minnesota For Denying Access For Shapiro Speech

The University of Minnesota, which somehow could not find a venue on its main campus for Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro to speak on February 26, necessitating the moving of his speech to a venue off campus, may get hit with a lawsuit from Young America’s Foundation (YAF) and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

As YAF spokesman Spencer Brown writes, if the university does not cease its disparate treatment of conservative students trying to host Shapiro through YAF’s nationwide campus lecture program on February 26, a lawsuit will be forthcoming.

The letter warning of a lawsuit that was sent to the University of Minnesota’s General Counsel states:

In December 2017, the Students for a Conservative Voice (SCV), a student organization at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, requested a venue on the Twin Cities campus for a campus lecture featuring New York Times bestselling author Ben Shapiro. Working with YAF, SCV scheduled the Shapiro lecture for February 26, 2018 at 7:00 pm. SCV originally requested the Ted Mann Concert Hall because of its size and location on campus. The Ted Mann Concert Hall can accommodate up to 1,126 people. In an email dated, December 20, 2017, Erik Dussault, assistant director of student unions and activities, informed SVC that the concert hall was unavailable.

SCV then requested Willey Hall for the Ben Shapiro lecture. Willey Hall can accommodate 800 people. However, the University inexplicably denied SCV’s request for Willey Hall, citing “access to the skyway” as rationale for its denial. In an email dated December 21, 2017, Mr. Dussault, writing to SCV, stated: “I have one more venue to send you. Willey is not going to be a good option due to access from the skyway. I’m in a meeting, I’ll send it out when I’m done.”

But that “one more venue” wasn’t even on the Minneapolis campus. From that point forward the University only offered the Students for a Conservative Voice space on the St. Paul campus, which bares the nickname “cow campus” because of its remoteness.

Lieutenant Troy Buhta of the University of Minnesota Police Department wrote to Mr. Dussault on December 21, 2017 to suggest the Continuing Education and Conference Center as a potential venue for the Shapiro lecture. However, the Continuing Education and Conference Center is much smaller than either of the venues that SCV originally requested; it only holds 392 people. It is also significantly less accessible to students. Lt. Buhta described the Continuing Education and Conference Center by writing: “...the best part is the building is all by itself and much easier to secure inside with ample room outside. There isn’t any significant transportation routes nearby.”

But SCV quickly ceased consideration of the Continuing Education and Conference Center after learning that the University planned to charge the students $5,000 to reserve the space, an exorbitant fee for any college student.

North Star Ballroom, which is also on the St. Paul campus, became the one and only offered option for SCV. And while this venue too presents accessibility concerns because of its remoteness, it is also significantly smaller than either of the venues that SCV originally requested. The North Star Ballroom holds slightly more than 400 people. As a result, hundreds of students are going to miss out on the opportunity to hear from Mr. Shapiro.

As of February 13, 2018, Willey Hall remains available from 3:45 pm to 10:00 pm. No one has reserved it.

The letter adds, “Here, the University of Minnesota is depriving SCV of their First Amendment right of expression by denying the group equal access to Willey Hall. The community’s potential reaction to SCV’s speech does not justify the University in restricting SCV’s speech. Listeners’ reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation.”

The letter concludes, “On behalf of SCV, we demand that the University of Minnesota respect the First Amendment rights of all of its students, regardless of viewpoint, by allowing Ben Shapiro to speak in Willey Hall on February 26, 2018 at 7:00pm. We also demand that this event be allowed to proceed without the imposition of a security fee based on the actions, or potential actions, of those critical of Mr. Shapiro and SCV. You are on notice of potential imminent litigation and are required to abide by all relevant preservation of evidence rules.”

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