Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) warned the University of New Mexico (UNM) that its $5,000 “security fee” charged to the university’s Students for Life chapter violated the First Amendment.
ADF, a nonprofit Christian legal organization, sent a letter on Wednesday asking UNM to rescind the security fee, which the school charged in anticipation that a SFL event would draw protestors.
Previously, students protested an event hosted by the UNM Students for Life chapter. In October of 2022, Turning Point USA and the UNM Students for Life chapter co-hosted Ian Haworth, who was going to give a talk entitled “How Men Can Fight for Life.” Crowds of pro-abortion students protested the event, verbally harassing students in attendance.
“The pro-abortion mob pushed up against the security barricade protecting attendees and chanted ‘f**k Turning Point’ and ‘f**k white lives,’” Campus Reform reported.
During the protests, “the protestors were banging barricades against the concrete wall and the event became so unmanageable that the New Mexico State Police and riot team were called in to protect entry,” Students for Life reported.
In April, the Students for Life chapter scheduled an upcoming event featuring Kristan Hawkins. In anticipation that the event would draw protesters, the UNM required the Students for Life chapter to pay $5,461.40 for security provisions.
In response, the Students for Life chapter worked with ADF to request that the university rescind the security fees.
“The event featuring Hawkins drew no resistance, but the university still charged the student group the cost of 30 officers who provided security based entirely on the university’s prediction that Hawkins’s speech would draw protests,” ADF media reported.
“Other than the joint event with TPUSA none or our events have ever been protested,” SFL UNM told CatholicVote. “We held a post-abortive panel and table displays. No one showed up for the panel and most of our large tour displays get screamed at or sometimes kicked by a few people but no serious protest like the TPUSA events.”
The letter referred to the university’s “unbridled discretion” in determining the fee. The university’s policies that determine the cost of security measures for an event are based upon, but not limited to, certain ambiguous factors. The result for the Students for Life chapter, Barham argued, was an “unconstitutional” application of the policy.
ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham, who signed the letter, explained, “Universities have a duty to protect the speech of all students, and by charging Students for Life over $5,000 in security fees, the University of New Mexico is violating that duty.” He added:
When a university discriminates against students based on the content of their speech, which includes how others might respond to it, that speech is not free. In fact, it is very expensive… This is a reason for granting more protection, not higher fees, and we urge the university to rescind the fee and demonstrate it truly values free speech.
Barham argued that UNM were “exercising unbridled discretion” when they charged the group more than $5,400 out of concern that “the group’s critics and opponents might misbehave.”
SFL UNM never received any threats during the event’s promotion, and even invited pro-choice campus groups to the event, to which the pro-choice groups declined. The pro-choice groups affirmed that “they would not be attending,” SFL UNM told CatholicVote.
Initially, when the security fee was estimated, “our legal team at Students for Life of America sent a demand letter saying that the charge was unconstitutional. The University did not respond,” a representative student of SFL UNM told CatholicVote. “I believe we sent another demand letter and never heard anything back. After the event we got the invoice of $5,000. We sent another demand letter and the University responded saying that since we approved the charge, we have to pay for it. This is when ADF got involved and we sent another demand letter.”
SFL UNM added that the University of New Mexico has been “pretty silent and slow to respond” to the requests.
“Some might consider Student for Life’s pro-life views controversial, but this is the reason for granting the speech more protection, not for charging it higher fees,” Barham continued.
In the letter, Barham explained that students did not cancel the event, even though they were notified of the fees beforehand, because they “had no choice but to accept the University’s security estimates.”
“To do otherwise would jeopardize the months [the chapter] had spent planning the event and risk having the University cancel the lecture,” he wrote, adding, “to treat acceptance of a tentative figure given this power imbalance as a knowing, fully-informed, and voluntary waiver of constitutional rights is ridiculous.”
Barham reminded the university that a college campus is not exempt from the implications of the First Amendment.
The letter requested a response by October 25, 2023. The university has not yet replied.
Although no other events besides the TPUSA even have been protested, SFL UNM noted the climate on-campus has been increasingly “hostile” towards the pro-life presence on campus.
“The climate at UNM has definitely worsened in the last year,” a representative student of SFL UNM told CatholicVote. “In the last 4 years that I’ve been apart of the group, this is the most hostile year we have had. Not hostile in a violent way but nonetheless hostile to our presence on campus. We tabled on Monday, and like I said, we had a few angry students who ended up forming some large groups who only wanted to argue with me instead of have conversations, which is new. Most of the time students are indifferent and we only have one or two people who actually make a scene but this semester has been different.”
[This article was updated Oct. 23 upon receiving comment from Students for Life University of New Mexico.]