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A Different Kind of March Madness at Kennesaw State University

By Tom Intorcio

KSU is earning a name for itself. Unfortunately, that’s not because of its Division I NCAA basketball team.

The Atlanta-area university is making its mark for repressive speech policies. While free speech is threatened on many campuses, KSU is aggressively working to shutdown views that could challenge its home court advantage over ideas.

Recently, we profiled how officials quarantined a pro-life display to a “speech zone” that makes up less than 0.08 percent of its 405-acre campus.

On March 5, ADF attorneys filed a second lawsuit against the university after it imposed unconstitutional “security fees” on Young Americans for Freedom for an event featuring conservative Katie Pavlich, scheduled for March 7. The lawsuit also challenges the caste system that KSU uses to sort student groups into separate but unequal tiers.

Last fall, Young Americans for Freedom became a “registered student organization” (RSO). It is part of a network of chapters committed to ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans are “inspired by the ideas of individual freedom….”

Under KSU’s policies, officials have unlimited power to rank groups into one of four classifications. Those at the top of the pyramid (i.e., chartered or affiliated groups) get preferential treatment and funding from student fees. Those at lower levels get less. Those in the bottom “recognized” category, like Young Americans for Freedom, cannot receive any student activity fee funding at all. When Young Americans for Freedom tried to obtain a higher status, KSU officials denied the club twice.

In December 2017, Young Americans for Freedom began planning the Pavlich event. In early January, the club e-mailed KSU about its plans. Initially, its request was approved. Then the university informed club leaders that its request was “pending security review.”

On Feb. 1, an official e-mailed Jamie Hahn, one of the club’s officers, a bill for $320 to cover police security for Pavlich’s lecture. Hahn replied by asking why an added officer was required. The official explained that the KSU Police Department “determine[s] what constitutes the best safety measure based upon the type of event and who the particular speaker . . . will be.” The official continued: “Based on the speaker you plan on hosting for your event . . ., there is a little more controversy surrounding this person [emphasis added] than that of other lesser know [sic] individuals.” Thus, “Public Safety has deemed it necessary . . . to have both officers there.”

Pavlich is the news editor at Townhall.com and a Fox News contributor. Hardly a security threat. Indeed, KSU officials treat real security threats much differently.

On Oct. 16, 2017, students held a Black Lives Matter protest on the Campus Green. The event’s organizers were not a recognized student organization. During the protest, Zach Bohannon, an officer with Young Americans for Freedom, asked the BLM leader what the group did to reserve the prime spot. The leader said they just had to show up because KSU officials had handled every space and security detail. They even trotted out KSU’s mascot “Scrappy the Owl” to support the protest. Apparently, there was no controversial objection; no security fees. Just concierge service.

So due to KSU’s caste system, Young Americans for Freedom is denied any access to student activity fee funding, and it has less access to other resources on campus. Then due to the security fee policy, it is saddled with a $320 security fee. Due to both policies, YAF is unable to speak freely.

All our clients ask is for equal access.

“A public university is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, but that marketplace can’t function properly if officials can charge a group ‘security fees’ just because they don’t like what the group is saying, or if officials can provide funding and the best locations only to those sharing ideas that they prefer,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham.

Conservative groups should have a chance at event space, funding, and other benefits that they and the public pay for. With the help of ADF, YAF hopes to win freedom for all students so that everyone can speak truth to power.

Stay up to date on the latest cases and issues that ADF is working on to ensure college and university officials respect the constitutional rights of their students.
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Alliance Defending Freedom

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Alliance Defending Freedom advocates for your right to freely live out your faith

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