EAST LANSING, MICH. - Michigan State University has denied a request from a white supremacist group for space on its campus.
MSU announced the decision Thursday afternoon.
"After consultation with law enforcement officials, Michigan State University has decided to deny the National Policy Institute’s request to rent space on campus to accommodate a speaker," the university said in a statement. "This decision was made due to significant concerns about public safety in the wake of the tragic violence in Charlottesville last weekend.
"While we remain firm in our commitment to freedom of expression, our first obligation is to the safety and security of our students and our community."
The National Policy Institute was seeking to be on the East Lansing campus. Richard Spencer is the president and director of the organization. The request sought any available space on campus in mid-September.
The denial could be headed to court - where MSU might face rough water.
Robert Sedler, a constitutional law professor at Wayne State University, said courts have established that the overriding principal for public universities when it comes to speech on campus is neutrality toward the content.
"Once it allows access it cannot discriminate on the basis of content," he said, meaning that the university can't prohibit racist speech and allow equality speech.
Even if a public university fears that the speech will incite violence, Sedler said, it must allow it if there's advance notice. The university must protect the speaker, and can use law enforcement to prevent violence, he added.
Reaction from MSU campus was generally positive.
"I'm so glad they did this," said MSU sophomore William Tolman, 20, of East Lansing. "They are just hating people and sparking violence. We don't need that here."
MSU board member Brian Mosallam told the Free Press the administration had to make this decision.
"Freedom of expression is very important to our institution, but above all is the safety of our MSU community," he said. "Recent events have really brought this to light."
Student body president Lorenzo Santavicca said the decision fit what most students believed should have happened.
"I think the university made the right move on this decision to deny the request for the sake of our campus safety and security, as well as the message that may have been promoted through this group's agenda," he said. "Many students are very happy that the university put values first on this judgment."
Spencer and his group have made space requests at two other universities. He was scheduled to speak at Texas A&M on Sept. 11. On Monday, the university canceled that event.
He also requested space at the University of Florida. On Tuesday, that university denied his request.
“I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for," UF President Kent Fuchs said in a statement posted to the university's website.
"That said, the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others. The likelihood of violence and potential injury — not the words or ideas — has caused us to take this action. Denying this request for university space is the safest and most responsible decision we can make.”
Spencer told the Associated Press he would fight that denial in court.
Other Michigan public universities, including Wayne State and University of Michigan, had not received any requests on their campus.
The requests come after a group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched at the University of Virginia on Friday and a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville turned into deadly riots.
MSU has had controversial speakers before. In December of last year, Milo Yiannopoulos came to MSU as part of his "Dangerous Faggot" tour. Yiannopoulos, a former Brietbart News editor, is an avowed anti-feminist and critic of "PC culture" on college campuses.
Seven people, including two students, were arrested prior to the event, and were cited for violating MSU's disorderly assembly or conduct ordinance. At the time, an MSU spokesperson said "speakers from all political persuasions are welcome at MSU. If anywhere, universities should be places for viewpoints to be debated."
The Associated Press and the Lansing State Journal contributed to this story. Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj
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