PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The appearance of young conservative speaker and podcaster, Ben Shapiro, popular with some on college campuses, is stirring up controversy at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Thousands of schools apply to get Ben Shapiro. He’s the No. 1 requested conservative speaker on college campuses,” Pitt College Republicans President Lorenzo Riboni told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Wednesday. “We’re lucky enough to be one out of six that got chosen this semester.”
Sponsored by the Pitt College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation, Shapiro will speak at Alumni Hall Wednesday evening.
But it’s a surprisingly high-security fee charged by Pitt that could prompt a lawsuit — $5,546.00.
Delano: “Do you think fees like that are a barrier to free speech?”
Riboni: “I think they absolutely can be.”
Riboni says the highest fee ever assessed on them in the past was $600.
So under protest, the Young America’s Foundation is paying this security fee, but says it will take the university to court unless they rescind the fee.
So how do these security fees work, and can they be used in a discriminatory manner such that free speech is not really free at the University of Pittsburgh?
The university denies that it overcharges conservative groups, telling KDKA, “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.”
But an email to the sponsors suggests the expected number of protesters will dictate the number of over-time officers and cost of security.
And protesters to Shapiro are expected.
Sarah Koros and friends have written a protest letter.
“He is not welcomed by everyone to speak on and in such a hateful way,” says Koros.
Koros is Jewish, as is Ben Shapiro, and she says it’s important, especially after the tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue, for people to know that Shapiro does not speak for the Jewish community.
Shapiro’s sponsors agree, but say it’s ridiculous to associate Shapiro with anti-Semitism or white nationalism, as some protesters do.
As for the high security fees, the Young America’s Foundation says it has won lawsuits against universities who use those fees to discriminate against conservative viewpoints.