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Penn State sued over request for Spencer to speak on campus

Written by The Associated Press | Oct 19, 2017 2:27 PM
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FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2016, file photo, Richard Spencer, who leads a movement that mixes racism, white nationalism and populism, speaks at the Texas A&M University campus in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

(Harrisburg) -- A man whose request to rent space at Penn State for an appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer was turned down sued university officials on Thursday, claiming his free speech rights were violated.

The federal lawsuit by Cameron Padgett, a Georgia university student organizing a tour of campuses by Spencer, sought damages and an injunction to force Penn State to rent him a conference room or lecture hall.

The filing was made the same day as a planned speech by Spencer at the University of Florida, where officials prepared a large police and security response.

Padgett said Penn State President Eric Barron and the school's board of trustees have no reason to think Spencer and his supporters will engage in offensive criminal misconduct or advocate for it.

Jordan Rushie, Padgett's lawyer, said a public university can't ban a speaker based on the content of his speech. He said an application for an injunction will follow the lawsuit.

Barron denied Padgett's request in August, citing concerns that a talk by Spencer could result in "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 in August. "But the First Amendment does not require our university to risk imminent violence."

A Penn State spokesman offered no immediate comment on the lawsuit on Thursday.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Harrisburg) -- A man who was turned down by Penn State for rental space to hold an appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer is suing the university.

Cameron Padgett, a Georgia university student, claims in the federal lawsuit filed Thursday the school violated his free speech rights by denying Spencer use of campus space.

Padgett's seeking damages and an injunction to force Penn State to rent him a conference room or lecture hall.

The filing was made the same day as a planned speech by Spencer at the University of Florida, amid a large police and security response.

Penn State President Eric Barron denied Padgett's request this summer, citing concerns a talk by Spencer could result in "disruption and violence."

A Penn State spokesman offered no immediate comment on the lawsuit.

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