Michigan State University will allow white nationalist Richard Spencer to speak on campus in March, after settling a lawsuit brought by a supporter.
“This is a resounding First Amendment victory for people of the right-wing or alternative-right political persuasion,” Kyle Bristow, the attorney who brought the case against the school, said Thursday. “It stabs at the very heart of left-wing censorship in academia. I look forward to procuring many more legal victories like this one in the years to come.”
Lou Anna Simon, president of the public university, said, “Michigan State rejects this group’s divisive and racist messages and remains committed to maintaining a diverse campus and supporting an inclusive, just and democratic society.”
Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute has sought to hold events on college campuses across the country, but several university presidents denied requests after he led a march of people bearing torches and shouting slurs on the University of Virginia campus in August. Violent clashes with counterprotesters unfolded the next day at a Charlottesville rally.
One of Spencer’s supporters, Cameron Padgett, has sued several universities that turned Spencer away. Last spring, a federal judge reversed Auburn University’s decision to cancel a Spencer event, saying the school’s actions violated First Amendment free speech rights, and that there was no evidence Spencer advocated violence.
When reached by phone Thursday, Bristow was driving to Ohio State University to meet with university attorneys there, he said.
On Aug. 17, Michigan State’s president denied the original request for an event on campus, including a speech by Spencer.
In her statement Thursday, Simon said the university declined to allow the event at that time,”not because of [the National Policy Institute’s] hateful views, but because public safety is our first obligation.
“Michigan State is wholly dedicated to freedom of speech, not just as a public institution, but as an institution of higher education,” she said. “Here, ideas — not people — are meant to clash and to be evaluated based on their merits.”
The university agreed to allow the group to hold an event during spring break at the MSU Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education, on March 5. “This agreement was based on the university’s requirement that the event occur on a date and at a venue that minimizes the risk of violence or disruption to campus,” Simon said. “The security of our campus community remains our top priority and all appropriate security measures will be taken in connection with the event.”
Padgett was asked to pay a rental fee of $1,650 for the venue and to prove that he had obtained liability insurance for the event. He will not be allowed to stage a rally on campus coinciding with the speech. The university will pay $27,400 to Bristow, the attorney for Padgett.
The school’s student body president did not immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday.