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Penn State officials sued for rejecting Richard Spencer talk

The Associated Press
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White nationalist Richard Spencer, who popularized the term 'alt-right' speaks during a press conference at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on October 19, 2017 in Gainesville, Florida. Spencer delivered a speech on the college campus, his first since he and others participated in the 'Unite the Right' rally, which turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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.

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