The liberal group Progress N.C. has canceled plans to demonstrate at N.C. State University on Sunday after the university insisted on charging them for the cost of police protection.
The organization planned to bring about 20 people to demonstrate outside event on campus featuring a multitude of national and state figures in a forum titled Redesigning Democracy Summit. The demonstrators wanted to counter the appearance of one of the speakers, anti-tax guru Grover Norquist.
Campus police approved a permit to demonstrate, but said it would have to assign up to 10 officers for at least three hours at a cost of $1,350, which Progress N.C. says it can’t afford. The group enlisted an attorney, who bargaining the university down to a range of $100 to $500, but the lawyer said it could afford no more than $150 tops. That’s where negotiations broke down, according to a chain of emails the group shared with Dome.
The attorney, Raleigh lawyer Michael Weisel, warned NCSU its insistence on charging demonstrators could be unconstitutional, and added, “NCSU’s action in chilling free speech harkens back to 1963’s Act to Regulate Visiting Speakers, otherwise known as the Speaker Ban Law.”
NCSU’s position, stated in the emails by Eileen Goldgeier, vice chancellor and general counsel for the university, is that it has tried to accommodate the group’s financial concerns and that every effort would be made to keep the costs as low as possible.
Progress N.C. had planned a demonstration based on the sound bite: “It’s Over, Grover. Thank you Howard Coble. Thank you Walter Jones” for considering a compromise in the fiscal cliff negotiations and rejecting Norquist’s “no tax” pledge.
Progress N.C. executive director Gerrick Brenner said Saturday he had never heard of a public agency charge demonstrators the cost of police protection, and worried that it would set an unwelcome precedent.
"Clearly, NC State needs to revisit a policy over a 'free speech fee' which is so arbitrary that it reduces a constitutional right to a used car negotiation," Brenner said.
Update: NCSU is still trying to accommodate the protesters. On Saturday, Goldgeier emailed Weisel to tell him it can keep the bill to $150 if no more than 20 peaceful demonstrators attend.
Goldgeier, in an email she shared with Dome, said NCSU was trying to avoid stifling speech. She added that the campus police are providing security at a women's basketball game Sunday afaternoon, and was trying to avoid calling extra officers to duty.
The ball is back in Progress N.C.'s court.