Editorial: Proposed YAF lawsuit against Pitt unnecessary, harmful


Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Ben Shapiro spoke at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Ben Shapiro, an incendiary conservative commentator, has sparked backlash and protests at nearly every university he visits — just yesterday, Pitt joined that list in dramatic fashion.

The University levied a $5,546.52 security fee on Young America’s Foundation, the organization sponsoring Ben Shapiro, and YAF swiftly threatened to sue the University, citing a breach of Constitutional free speech rights.

But the legal organization that would represent YAF is no ordinary law firm — Alliance Defending Freedom is a religious far-right powerhouse. YAF drawing assistance from a massive and radical law firm for a mere $5,500 fine is not only completely unnecessary, it needlessly stokes the flames of a growing ideological divide between conservatives and liberals.

“[The fee] allows the administrators to have unfettered discretion in determining what kind of security is needed for an event,” YAF spokesperson Spencer Brown told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It opens the door … to charge conservatives for more security, whereas leftist speakers are not charged extra fees.”

But Pitt’s policy for hosting guest speakers is very clear — the organization sponsoring the event is wholly responsible for providing security.

“University officials shall determine whether an event requires security by evaluating factors, such as but not limited to, anticipated audience size, location of the event, access level to the event,” Pitt’s event scheduling guidelines read. “The organization(s) is responsible for any and all security costs.”

The University has the right to levy fines against YAF — its guidelines make that fact abundantly clear, making the lawsuit suspiciously seem like a publicity stunt.

And that would make sense — YAF is bent on proving the narrative that college campuses are hostile to conservatives. Pitt College Republicans President Lorenzo Riboni even expressed that in his opening remarks, lashing out against “liberal student news organizations like The Pitt News.”

Whenever Ben Shapiro has ignited violent protests in the past — at CSULA in 2016 hundreds of people barricaded the doors to his event — YAF promoted the controversy heavily on social media. Drumming up drama by suing Pitt fits neatly within the organization’s agenda.

But even if YAF were in the right regarding this lawsuit, dragging a controversial law firm like ADF into a petty YAF-Pitt feud doesn’t help its cause.

ADF has provided legal services to conservatives in many high-profile cases — siding with Masterpiece Cakeshop over a gay couple in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, for example. The organization has openly preached anti-gay sentiments.

“And in the course of the now hundreds of cases the Alliance Defense Fund has now fought involving this homosexual agenda, one thing is certain: there is no room for compromise with those who would call evil ‘good,’” Alan Sears, who represents ADF, said at the World Congress of Families in 2012.

Clearly, YAF is needlessly stirring up political hostility, accusing the University of partisanship for a simple, justifiable security fee. But if YAF aligns itself with radical organizations like ADF, too, it’ll spark fully justifiable backlash, not just petty political animus.