U. Minnesota Threatened With Lawsuit for Refusing to Host Ben Shapiro at Central Campus Venue

Ben Shapiro at Politicon 2017, Pasadena, Calif. / Getty Images
Ben Shapiro at Politicon 2017, Pasadena, Calif. / Getty Images
February 22, 2018

The University of Minnesota has been threatened with a lawsuit for refusing to host conservative Ben Shapiro at a central campus venue, with two national free speech advocacy groups calling the restrictions placed on the event a First Amendment violation.

Young America's Foundation, the organizer of Shapiro's current campus tour, including his UMN stop, and the legal team at the Alliance Defending Freedom demanded this week that Shapiro's Feb. 26 speech be relocated from a small site at a satellite campus to an 800-person hall in a central location.

UMN administrators' refusal to accommodate Shapiro at any one of the three large-capacity centers requested by the student clubs co-sponsoring the program was a capitulation to the heckler's veto, wrote YAF and ADF in a letter to UMN this week.

"It is fundamentally unfair to deny [Students for a Conservative Voice] equal access to a university facility because those critical of SCV may protest the content of their speech," wrote the groups.

YAF and ADF also objected to UMN's participation in a counter-program on "White Supremacy in the Age of Trump: An Anti-Racist Teach-In," to be held shortly before Shapiro's talk.

A dozen co-sponsors, including the university's Women's Center, have organized the program to consider modern day white extremism and the supposed role Shapiro, a Jewish man, plays in spreading racist ideology, according to the event description.

"It is ironic that the University’s Office for Equity and Diversity would sponsor an event to counter a lecture that will advance ideological diversity," reads the letter.

Extensive email correspondence dating back to Fall 2017 between the university and the student organizers, released earlier this month, show administrators expressing security concerns with numerous lecture halls at the main Twin Cities campus and suggesting spaces at the St. Paul location instead.

The student groups, which in addition to SCV include Minnesota Republic and Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, pushed for space to allow more of the many waitlisted students to attend Shapiro's talk, but received responses about expected protests and "community reaction."

SCV president Madison Dibble has accused UMN of repeatedly failing to discipline students who derail conservative programming, and said administrative concerns about disruptive and even violent anti-Shapiro demonstrators were a direct result of such administrative inaction in the past.