PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - When conservative lecturer Ben Shapiro was invited by the University of Pittsburgh College Republicans to speak on campus last month, they felt lucky and hundreds lined up outside Alumni Hall in Oakland to hear Shapiro.
"Thousands of schools apply to get Ben Shapiro. He's the number one requested conservative speaker on college campuses," said Lorenzo Riboni, a senior with the Pitt College Republicans.
"We were lucky to be the one out of six that got chosen this semester."
But when university officials levied a $5,500 "security fee" on the young Republicans, saying protesters might attempt to disrupt the event, Shapiro's host committee, Young America's Foundation, paid the fee under protest but asked Pitt to rescind it.
"Hopefully, they do do that and respect the conservative students' right to host who they wish, not just liberal students," said Spencer Brown, a spokesperson for the Young America's Foundation.
But so far, Pitt has not done that even though only a few protesters showed up.
So now the College Republicans and YAF have sent the university a letter threatening a lawsuit.
"This sort of tactic on the part of a school is very dangerous because it takes the power away from students to determine whose speech they want to bring in and turns the power over to the leftist protesters and allows them to shut down anyone's speech they find disfavored," Brown told KDKA political editor Jon Delano.
They say charging the sponsors a so-called "security fee" for the actions of protesters over whom the sponsor has no control is unconstitutional.
"They should commit to not charge this kind of fee in the future."
The university did not respond to the legal points, but insists, "Consistent with the First Amendment, the content and viewpoint of the speaker's or performer's message and the community's reaction or expected reaction to the event will not be considered when determining the security fee to be paid by the hosting organization."
But lawyers for the sponsors say that is exactly what Pitt did in this case.
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