State senator opposes white supremacist speech at University of Florida

A state lawmaker wants Richard Spencer barred from appearing at the University of Florida.

One of the white supremacists who took part in a violent rally in Charlottesville over the weekend could be coming to Florida next, and a state senator is calling for it to be canceled.

Richard Spencer, a white supremacist, is planning a speech at the University of Florida in September. Governor Rick Scott told reporters Tuesday he’s reached out to law enforcement in the area to make sure they're ready if it does happen.

State Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Republican from Lakeland, said she hopes it doesn’t.

“Are we going to let the head of ISIS show up at our universities and decide to open up and have a conversation with our students? Or the leader of a gang?” she asked. “There has to be a parameter in place.”

In a letter posted to Facebook following the violence in Charlottesville, the University of Florida's president said Spencer is planning an event the college. It's not affiliated with the university and no student groups are sponsoring it, the letter explains.

He added Spencer's presence would be "deeply disturbing," but "we must follow the law."

On the one hand, the university has to protect the First Amendment and free speech. On the other hand, it also has to protect its students.

“Student safety has always got to come first,” Dr. Bruce Anderson, a political science professor at Florida Southern College, said.

He agrees, free speech, even racist, hate speech, is protected under the First Amendment, but in this case, the university has the right to turn Spencer away.

“I think they can simply say, we have 60,000 people on this campus that could be under threat,” he explained. “You don't invite trouble.”

The Gainesville Police Department posted on Facebook, saying they're talking with local, state and federal law enforcement ahead of the event. Still, Stargel thinks it'd be safer to avoid it all together.

“We all do have free speech, but there are parameters on that if it's looking at endangering other people,” she said.

Spencer's visit to the University of Florida isn't set in stone. The school's president says he's reached out to other universities who've dealt with similar issues in the past.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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