Boise State U., criticized for imposing 'security fees' for gun-rights event, agrees to revise speech policies

IDAHO — Boise State University has reimbursed event security fees to a student organization and agreed to reevaluate administrative policies some say trample students’ First Amendment rights.

In May, BSU’s Young Americans for Liberty chapter hosted an event on campus that included a speech by Second Amendment rights activist Dick Heller. In response, university officials charged the student organization a $465 security fee — on top of the room reservation fee — because of the nature of the topics being discussed, said Ritchie Eppink, legal director for the ACLU of Idaho.

According to event guidelines, the policy granted university officials discretion to impose security fees on specific student organizations. The cost to hire the additional “security and/or law enforcement officers,” was then passed down to the organization sponsoring the event in the form of event costs.

But on Friday, Kevin Satterlee, vice chancellor for Campus Operations and General Counsel, announced in a letter the university would suspend the policy and work with the organizations to “propose revisions to our policies and departmental procedures so that they cannot be interpreted or implemented to violate the free speech rights of the members of the campus community.”

The University “had what they viewed to be a security concern and there was a last minute assessment of $465 in what they called security fees,” said Geoffrey Talmon, director for the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Center for Defense of Liberty, which worked with the ACLU of Idaho in advocating against the policy. “And we obviously had concerns about that.”

After talks between the organizations and university officials, the fee has since been reimbursed in full to the student organization, and the university has suspended other discretionary policies — such as prior approval for signs, banners and decorations and exceptions to noise and sound amplification — that the ACLU of Idaho and Idaho Freedom Foundation found unfavorable to free speech.

Eppink said he hopes the talks with the university will be positive and favorable to students’ First Amendment rights and that he is pleased with the university’s actions thus far.

“That’s the right thing to do,” Eppink said, “and let’s hope that they continue to do the right thing and change these policies so that they can be examples for the rest of the state and even possibly the rest of the country.”

Contact SPLC staff writer Michael Bragg by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 119.