October 19, 2023

University of New Mexico Charges Pro-Life Student Group over $5,000 to Host Event

The conservative legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is fighting back against the University of New Mexico (UNM) after it charged thousands of dollars in security fees to hold a pro-life event.

The Students for Life chapter at UNM was charged $5,461 in security fees to hold a campus event in April 2023. In response, ADF senior counsel Travis Barham sent a letter demanding that UNM rescind the fees, which it argues were determined based on the students' pro-life viewpoint. The fees paid for the presence of 30 officers from the University of New Mexico Police Department. UNM determined that the presence of the officers was necessary "based on the size and type of event."

“Ultimately, the University’s Police Department and Special Events Committee considers whatever it wants, determines on its own whether security is needed, determines on its own how much security presence is needed, and sends the bill to the speaker,” ADF's letter states. “There are no meaningful—and certainly no objective or narrowly drawn—limits on these entities’ discretion. This is unconstitutional.”

“Universities have a duty to protect the speech of all students, and by charging Students for Life over $5,000 in security fees, the University of New Mexico is violating that duty,” Barham said in a statement
“When a university discriminates against students based on the content of their speech, which includes how others might respond to it, that speech is not free. In fact, it is very expensive. As we explain in our letter, UNM officials exercised unbridled discretion by concluding that the group’s critics and opponents might misbehave, which as it turns out, they did not. This is a reason for granting more protection, not higher fees, and we urge the university to rescind the fee and demonstrate it truly values free speech.”

“Pro-life students should not be forced to pay a free speech fine,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins. “The trend of schools using fees and security costs as a deterrent to pro-life student activity is not only unconstitutional, it contradicts the very nature of education itself, in which educators are supposed to bring ideas and people together for an informed and constructive debate.” 

ADF's letter asks that UNM rescind the security fees by October 25 or face legal action.