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Penn State Officials Sued for Refusing to Allow Richard Spencer to Speak on Campus

by on October 19, 2017 4:57 PM

A Georgia State University student who is organizing a tour of college campuses for white supremacist Richard Spencer has filed a federal lawsuit against Penn State officials over the university's refusal to allow Spencer to speak at University Park.

Cameron Padgett filed the suit on Thursday in U.S. Middle District Court against the Penn State Board of Trustees and university President Eric Barron.

Padgett is seeking an injunction ordering Penn State to rent to him a conference room or lecture hall for Spencer to speak. He also is seeking punitive damages of at least $75,000 and legal fees.

Spencer is president of the white supremacist think tank National Policy Institute and is a leading figure among the so-called "alt-right," which advocates for white nationalism.

Padgett says he made a request in July to rent space for Spencer to speak at Penn State. On Aug. 22 -- a little more than a week after upheaval in Charlottesville, Va., where a white supremacist rally led to violence and death -- Barron issued a statement saying Spencer would not be welcome at Penn State, citing the likelihood of disruption and violence.

"Penn State is an institution of higher education, and fully supports the right of free speech and encourages its expression in thoughtful and respectful ways, even when we strongly disagree with the opinions expressed," Barron said at the time. "But the First Amendment does not require our university to risk imminent violence."

The lawsuit claims that Penn State has no reason to believe "will in fact engage in and/or advocate offensive criminal misconduct should Spencer be permitted to speak on PSU’s campus in a conference room or lecture hall rented by Plaintiff," and alleges the Antifa protestors are to blame for disruption surrounding Spencer's events.

Padgett says refusal to allow Spencer to speak on campus is a violation of rights to freedom of speech.  He cited a federal judge's injunction ordering another public college, Auburn University, to allow Spencer to speak on campus. That occurred in April, four months before the events in Charlottesville.

At Auburn, Spencer did not advocate criminal misconduct, Padgett's complaint states, and Auburn settled the case for $29,000. 

As was required at Auburn, Padgett also is seeking that Penn State be ordered to provide police protection for Spencer and his supporters without additional cost


Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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