OC Register: Freedom X Challenging UCI For College Repub Events

Originally posted at Orange County Register.

Members of the College Republicans club at UC Irvine are looking forward to another on-campus appearance by controversial speaker Milo Yiannopoulos – but they’ve hit some snags with the administration and say the school is using bureaucracy to squelch their First Amendment rights to free speech.

Last month, UCI officials denied the group’s request to use a ballroom that can seat 800 people to host the tickets-only Yiannopoulos speech in the fall, and a separate winter event with conservative talk-radio host Dennis Prager, according to Kimo  Gandall, president of the school’s College Republicans club. School officials also told the group that both events must take place before 5 p.m., Gandall said.

A UCI spokesman said the university offered alternative locations and plans to meet with the student group to discuss details.

“We welcome further discussions with the College Republicans to find a suitable place and time for their event. We will address these issues with them when we meet,” spokesman Tom Vasich said Thursday.

A former editor of Breitbart News, Yiannopoulos is described by some as a far-right provocateur and by others as a purveyor of hate speech. UCI’s College Republicans suggest the administration is targeting their event because Yiannopoulos tends to attract protests.

The student group recently turned to Los Angeles attorney Bill Becker, whose firm, Freedom X, represents conservative campus groups.

The matter raises “serious First Amendment concerns,” Becker wrote in a letter Wednesday to a UCI administrator.

The school’s requirement to host an event before 5 p.m. limits the number of students and members of the public who will be able to attend, Becker said. And the university’s offer to host the events in a smaller venue doesn’t allow the student group to recoup its costs, he continued. UCI also offered the Bren Center, Becker said, but that venue, which seats 5,000, is too expensive.

“The College Republicans are being financially burdened and punished,” Becker said Thursday. They’re not being treated equally because administrators “expect a hostile mob to show up.”

Yiannopoulos spoke at UCI twice in 2016: the first event attracted supporters as well as a smaller but loud group of protesters; the second drew hundreds of attendees and a heavy security presence but no protests. When he spoke at Cal State Fullerton last Halloween, more than 800 attended the sold-out event while protesters outside chanted slogans like “Fascists go home.” Police took eight people into custody, arresting one woman who had a knife and used pepper spray on other demonstrators.

It’s not the first time UCI administrators have been at odds with College Republicans. In 2016, UCI attempted to sanction the group over what students said was a technicality regarding proof of insurance for private security guards at a Yiannopoulos talk. Those sanctions were soon lifted after the university received hundreds of calls and emails from the public.

The free speech rights of students to host speakers like Yiannopoulos has been a talking point for California College Republicans and other conservative groups on campuses nationwide.

In February, in a lawsuit brought by Becker, a federal judge blocked the University of Washington from billing the College Republicans there a security fee for a campus “freedom rally” featuring a conservative speaker. The school’s security fee policy process “chills the exercise of First Amendment speech and expression,” the judge wrote.

Read more at Orange County Register.