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Ohio State sued after denying white supremacist Richard Spencer space to speak

Richard Spencer, a white nationalist, takes a brief tour of Texas A&M campus before a speaking event at the Memorial Student Center on Dec. 6, 2016 in College Station, Texas. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

A Georgia State graduate student is suing Ohio State after it thrice denied his requests to rent space for white supremacist Richard Spencer to speak, claiming the university is violating the First and 14th Amendments.

The lawsuit — filed Sunday in federal court by Kyle Bristow, an attorney representing Cameron Padgett, the graduate student — comes two days after Ohio State denied Padgett’s most recent request for campus space for Spencer to hold an event.

In its denial Friday, Ohio State said it couldn’t accommodate a visit from Spencer without “substantial risk to public safety, as well as material and substantial disruption to the work and discipline of the University.”

To support its claim, the university cited Spencer’s appearance Thursday at the University of Florida.

Spencer, who espouses anti-Semitic beliefs and has said America belongs only to white men, helped organize the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August.

Ohio State first denied Padgett’s request to hold an event for Spencer in September. On Oct. 13, the university rejected Padgett’s second request.

The legality of Ohio State’s denials has always been in question, as the First Amendment says the government must adopt content-neutral policies to speech. Hate speech is protected by the First Amendment.

The lawsuit says Ohio State is denying Padgett’s requests because it finds Spencer’s beliefs “objectionable.”

It also claims the university should “have no reason to believe” that Padgett or Spencer will “in fact engage in and/or advocate offensive criminal misconduct should Spencer be permitted to speak on OSU’s campus in a room rented by [Padgett].”  

“In fact, Spencer has spoken at Texas A&M University, Providence College, Auburn University, and the University of Florida without engaging in or advocating violence,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims threats of violence are instead coming from counter-protesters. In Charlottesville, an anti-racist counter-protester was killed by a white-nationalist rally attendee.

Bristow filed a similar lawsuit Thursday against Penn State after it denied Padgett’s request to rent space. Bristow is also suing Michigan State on Padgett’s behalf.

Padgett is seeking a trial by jury and punitive damages of at least $75,000.

An Ohio State spokesman said the university has nothing to add beyond the statement and letter it issued Friday.

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