Originally posted at Cleveland.com.
Kaitlin Bennett, center, was the organizer of an open carry rally held at Kent State University on Sept. 29, 2018. (David Petkiewicz/cleveland.com)
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Kent State University chapter of a conservative advocacy group asked a federal judge to bar university officials from imposing security costs for an upcoming gun rights event set to be held in the student center.
Liberty Hangout, which was involved in a recent open-carry rally on Kent State’s campusthat resulted in several arrests and confrontations between participants and protesters, claims officials are unconstitutionally trying to impose an estimated $1,800 fee for eight police officers and six security guards to be on hand for a Nov. 19 event called “Let’s Talk Gun Rights.”
The event is to feature Kaitlin Bennett, a Kent State alumna and conservative social media personality who has acted as a provocateur by doing things such as challenging David Hogg, the survivor of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida and a gun-control advocate, to an arm-wrestling match.
Liberty Hangout argues that the university is trying to stifle the school chapter’s free-speech rights by imposing security costs because of the group’s viewpoints, and that the university’s policies on security fees are unconstitutionally vague.
“Defendants’ assessment of financially burdensome security fees will deprive Plaintiffs of their freedom of expression, assembly and association and will deny students an opportunity to hear from a gifted speaker whose message resonates with many students,” the motion says.
An attorney for Kent State, in response to questions over the security charges, wrote in an email to a lawyer representing Liberty Hangout that a Sept. 29 rally Bennett held on campus “required a significant law enforcement presence” to ensure the safety of her, attendees and university staff and students, according to court filings.
The open-carry rally was not sponsored by a student organization and it cost the university $65,000 in security costs as a result, the email stated.
Liberty Hangout’s motion asks a federal judge to bar the university from imposing security fees for the upcoming event. The motion was filed with a lawsuit seeking an order permanently barring the university from enforcing its security fee policies, as well as an unnamed amount in damages.
A university spokesman did not immediately provide a comment. However, the aforementioned email also said the university has charged similar security fees for other events held in campus facilities, such as fraternity-sorority dances and cultural events.
It also wrote that the costs were “viewpoint neutral.”
Such costs have been imposed by other universities where right-wing groups and conservative speakers sought to hold events. Bill Becker, president of the Freedom X legal group representing Liberty Hangout, said a federal judge earlier this year blocked the University of Washington from imposing similar costs on the organizers of a rally that featured the conservative group Patriot Prayer.
Bennett, who gained fame and notoriety by posting a picture of herself on Twitter with a rifle slung behind her back walking on Kent State’s campus holding a graduation cap inscribed with the words “Come and take it,” led the Sept. 29 rally to advocate for her and others’ right to open carry on campus.
Whether intentional or not, though, it agitated people who felt the groups’ rally was nothing more than a show of implied force against people who aren’t on the same page politically.
Protesters significantly outnumbered the participants of Bennett’s rally, many of whom were armed. Both sides screamed insults at each other as police separated them.
Four people were arrested. Nobody was seriously hurt.
Michael Heil, the president of Liberty Hangout’s Kent State chapter, said the Nov. 19 event is meant to give Bennett a chance to spread her message about gun rights on campus. Heil, a digital media production major in his junior year, said that message got lost at the Sept. 29 event.
“This one is just trying to be the honest-to-God conversation,” Heil, 20, said.
He said firearms and other weapons are prohibited at the event, a fact noted on an Eventbrite page.
Heil said not all events held by student groups are required to have security. If an event is deemed to pose a risk to anyone, Kent State should foot the security costs, he said.
He added that the group is not expecting nearly the level the opposition for this event as for the last one, as this one is less than two weeks away and the group only recently started advertising.
The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge John Adams.
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