Free speech is highly valued in the United States. But should universities be expected to foot the bill for the outlandishly high costs of bigoted or hate-filled campus speakers?
The University of Florida is planning to spend half a million dollars to provide security for Richard Spencer, a self-described “alt-right” personality whose views are closely aligned with neo-Nazi philosophies. Spencer plans to speak at UF on the topic of white identity, and creating a white "homeland" in the United States, reports the Tampa Bay Times.
The reason for the heightened security costs is due, primarily, to the fact that Spencer was one of the organizers behind the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past summer. Neo-Nazis wielding tiki torches descended upon the city and were met by counter-protesters who opposed their extremist viewpoints.
The resulting verbal clashes soon turned violent. Within the chaos, a neo-Nazi drove his vehicle into a crowd of people, injuring dozens and killing Heather Heyer, a counter-protester who frequently spoke out against bigotry before the event.
In another instance, an African-American man named DeAndre Harris was beaten with poles and other objects by a group of white supremacists in an area parking garage.
Despite the many instances of violence that were incited by bigots in Charlottesville, Spencer maintains that the need for security at his UF event is due entirely to those who oppose him.
“That danger does not come from me...,” he insisted. “It's going to come from these Antifa people and these other thug elements. They want to shut me down and they want to use any means necessary.”
His comments mirror what President Donald Trump said about the Charlottesville violence when he blamed “many sides” for the death of Heyer and injuries caused to activists. Left-wing protesters “came [to Charlottesville] violently attacking” Spencer’s group, Trump suggested.
Spencer’s event isn't the only high-profile, far-right speech that has cost a university hundreds of thousands of dollars. Milo Yiannopoulos had also planned a speech during University of California, Berkeley’s "Free Speech Week" back in September, only to cancel the speech and then hold a smaller impromptu 15-minute talk on the university grounds that same week. The security costs for the canceled event topped $800,000.
Conservative activists like Yiannopoulos and Spencer — who frequently tout hateful and bigoted ideals — do have the right to speak their minds freely in an open society. However, doing so at such high costs to universities, who themselves have struggling budgets, is detrimental to the quality of education for students at those campuses. The subject matter is also disruptive and divisive, so it becomes questionable what value these talks have on the nation's diverse campuses.
If hate speech like Spencer’s results in high costs to promote it, then we should seriously ponder whether we should force universities to subsidize its message. At a certain point, places of higher learning should be able to say, "no."
Banner/Thumb image credit: Joshua Roberts/Reuters