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Lawsuit over Richard Spencer campus appearance filed against Ohio State. Now what?

Richard Spencer speaks on the University of Florida campus on October 20. Credit: Courtesy of Lawson Nuland | Independent Florida Alligator

Ohio State was sued for its third and latest denial of requested event space for white supremacist Richard Spencer. What now?

The ball is in the university’s court, according to Elizabeth Cooke, a lawsuit, courts and procedures expert.

Ohio State has 60 days to respond to a complaint filed in federal court Sunday by Spencer’s lawyer Kyle Bristow, according to the lawsuit. In its response, the university can either confirm or deny the statement of facts regarding the court case — notes recorded on the interaction between the university and Spencer leading up to the filing — said Cooke, a clinical professor of law at the Moritz College of Law.

Then legal and factual tests will take place to determine constitutional issues and factual issues in both sides’ statements, Cooke said.

These facts range from discussion on the ideological beliefs of Cameron Padgett — the Georgia State University graduate student who submitted the requests to use Ohio State’s space to host Spencer — to Spencer’s lack of criminal record. In the complaint, Bristow asserted both Spencer and Padgett bring little to no danger with them during speaking engagements.

Bristow is also seeking $75,000 in damages in the suit against Ohio State.

“The First Amendment gets a lot of reverence because [Americans] hold those First Amendment rights very dear,” Cooke said. “At the same time, universities are very concerned about their abilities for keeping people safe and those rights sometimes seem to come in conflict,” she said.

In the complaint, Bristow is suing for Padgett’s right to rent a space for Spencer and not be required to pay for police presence.

It cost $500,000 for the University of Florida to provide safety and security detail for Spencer’s visit Thursday, according to Time Magazine.

Ohio State cited safety concerns in its refusals to Padgett, but those concerns are null, according to Bristow.

“[Padgett] has never been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of a violent crime, and Plaintiff does not advocate criminal conduct,” the lawsuit said. It reads the same for Spencer, who also has never been arrested.

Bristow said any violence that stems from a speaking event for Spencer comes from far-left counter protesters he defined as “antifa,” an abbreviation for antifascist. According to the complaint filed, the counter-protesters “resort to violence as a matter of practice to try to oppress people of a right-of-center political persuasion.”

On Aug. 12 a white nationalist rally Spencer helped assemble, called “Unite the Right,” resulted in the death of a counter-protester, Heather Heyer. At his University of Florida event, three of his supporters were charged with attempted homicide after a gunshot was fired into a small crowd. No one was injured.

It’s a waiting game from now until the university sends its response, but two questions need to be answered to determine the legality of Ohio State’s denial, Cooke said. The first being “is the speech itself protected,” and second being “is the [university’s] reaction to the potential for violence reasonable,” she said.

Spencer and Bristow did not respond to repeated requests for comment made by The Lantern. Ohio State is not commenting beyond the letter it released to Padgett Friday.

4 comments

  1. Good luck with that, Spencer . . . you’re gonna need it. You obviously don’t know who you’re up against, but what else can be expected of such a puny mind? Not only does OSU have deep pockets to fight this kind of nonsense, they also have powerful backers who have their names attached to prominent buildings on the campus. If you think the individual who has naming rights to internationally prominent OSU-affiliated entities such as The Wexner Center for the Arts and The OSU Wexner Medical Center and has donated millions to OSU over the years is going to stand by and watch OSU cave in on this, think again. No one is denying you “free speech,” chum; you are being denied a venue, which is perfectly within OSU’s rights. OSU denies use of University facilities all the time. It’s painfully obvious that Spencer is using the courts as a GoFundMe through frivolous litigation, given the settlement amount they are demanding. I hope OSU humiliates and buries this jerk.

  2. Mr. Spencer’s views are wrong. Mr. Spencer’s views are hurtful. Mr. Spencer’s views do not help solve any issues our society faces. But, Mr. Spencer has the right, in our society, to speak his mind and he should be allowed to. We will not feel good about what he says, but we will have put into practice the most significant philosophy our founding fathers developed; the right to openly speak against an organization, an idea, a people, or a government, without fear of physical or legal retribution. It is what makes America, with her imperfections, the most open and just society the world has ever known.

    • Spencer is guaranteed the right to speak; he is not guaranteed a right to a venue. If he wants a venue, he can pony up the money for the venue and the required security for the event by his little lonesome. Nobody is stopping him from doing that. OSU has every right to deny him or anybody else the use of university property as a venue as they see fit, which they do all the time. Richard Spencer needs to grow up and understand that sometimes the answer is “no.” It is obvious that Spencer is trying to squeeze money out of OSU and other schools by threatening litigation. I hope OSU doesn’t back down and cave in to this opportunistic goon the way other colleges have.

      History Lesson: In the 1960’s, radicals Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were routinely denied permission by various colleges and universities to speak on their campuses. They often would show up anyway, because unlike Richard Spencer, Hoffman and Rubin weren’t seeking approval or acceptance or respectability and didn’t twist the Constitution into pretzels or threaten litigation in order to attempt to force universities into providing them a venue. They would show up regardless and sometimes got thrown into jail for it, something I seriously doubt Richard Spencer would do since he is a coward at heart. Unlike Spencer, Rubin and Hoffman were brave enough to show up where they weren’t welcome and accept the consequence of their actions in order to further their cause. Spencer is regurgitating Third Reich propaganda that was rejected over seventy years ago when the Allies defeated Germany and has no relevance in 21st century America, and people are showing up at his events to ridicule him. If Spencer want to continue to make a fool of himself, no one is stopping him; he can book his own venue and security and pay for it himself, and not threaten litigation when he is denied a venue. That’s what a grown up who actually had courage of conviction would do.

    • Exactly. We MUST protect free speech. Love him or hate him, it’s only fair given that Sharia law promoting organizations are all over campus in Cbus (CAIR for example). Let’s listen to everyone and make up our own minds.

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