To further research this story, I called the town of Campbell, which is the intended site of the rally. I reached Denise Sarigianopoulos, who very kindly agreed to speak with me on the subject.
She spoke well of Freeborn and the YAL group, but explained that the gathering was originally falsely represented to the town as a “support the troops” event — and that this would have been something the town would have supported and allowed to continue without a police presence for security.
“If it were for the troops, we wouldn’t need police protection. We would probably have marched with them,” Sarigianopoulos said. She explained that Campbell is, like many local and regional governments, in “fiscal emergency” and unable to pay for the extra police presence town officials decided was necessary at the pro-Second Amendment rally.
Sarigianopoulos’ point is understandable (and the town’s concern for careful fiscal policy admirable)…but it’s also unconstitutional. Luke Sheahan of FIRE explains:
From the facts of this case, it looks like standard ideological discrimination. Interestingly, there is a Supreme Court case directly on point: Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement.
See FIRE’s letter to Temple University, specifically the second page:
In levying this additional charge for security, Temple University is requiring a student organization to provide funding for extra security because of the controversial content of the presentation and the potentially hostile reaction of audience members. However, any requirement that student organizations hosting controversial events pay for extra security provided by Temple is unconstitutional because it affixes a price tag to events on the basis of their expressive content.
The Supreme Court addressed precisely this issue in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, 505 U.S. 123, 134–135 (1992), when it struck down an ordinance in Forsyth County, Georgia, that permitted the local government to set varying fees for events based upon how much police protection the event would need. Criticizing the ordinance, the Court wrote that “[t]he fee assessed will depend on the administrator’s measure of the amount of hostility likely to be created by the speech based on its content. Those wishing to express views unpopular with bottle throwers, for example, may have to pay more for their permit.” In deciding that such a determination required county administrators to “examine the content of the message that is conveyed” (citation omitted), the Court stated that “[l]isteners’ reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation.… Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.” (Emphasis added.)
In short, the town of Campbell is practicing content discrimination in this situation, charging highly disparate fees based on the content of the rallies citizens wish to hold.
While the situation is improved to some extent by the lowered fee which resulted from discussions between the YAL chapter and town officials, the $480 fee still required (when no fee would be required for rallies celebrating different causes) is a blatant violation of the Constitution — and there’s a clear history of Supreme Court case law to support that position.
Ohioans for Concealed Carry graciously helped the YSU YAL members pay the required fee, so the rally will go forward as planned. And the Second Amendment group has filed suit against the town “after months of attempting to convince the City Council that their gun ban ordinance violates Ohio Law.” (I called OCC as well, but haven’t been able to reach them yet for comment. I’ll post an update if/when I do.)
But in the meantime, the constitutional violation remains. Keep an eye on this blog and Campus Reform’s for updates as this story unfolds!Published in