(CN) – Alt-right leader Richard Spencer spoke at Auburn University Tuesday night after a federal judge cleared the way for the controversial speaker, sparking protest and violence outside the event.
The Alabama university had cancelled the scheduled appearance on Friday, citing safety concerns.
A complaint filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama Eastern Division sought an injunction to enforce the university’s rental agreement providing a venue for the event.
According to the April 18 complaint, the university had agreed to rent the auditorium at James E. Foy Hall to plaintiff Cameron Padgett “for the purpose of providing a forum for Richard Spencer.”
The contract’s cancellation, in the midst of public outcry over the event, amounted to a violation of the speaker’s First Amendment rights, the complaint claimed.
“Auburn is not allowed at law to pick and choose what views are to be presented in a facility open to the general public for holding meetings and giving and hearing speeches,” the complaint stated. “Auburn is engaging in a thinly disguised ideological litmus test by which those sharing its official views find their rights protected while those who challenge the Auburn views have their right to freedom of speech cancelled based on some anonymous telephone threats.”
U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins found in favor of the plaintiff and enjoined Auburn from preventing the speech on the basis of content. The judge also said there was no evidence that Spencer advocated violence.
In reaction to the ruling, Spencer called the decision “a great victory for free speech.”
On Tuesday night, the speech did in fact take place, and violence did erupt, though it occurred amidst mostly-peaceful protests outside Foy Hall. According to the Associated Press, three people were arrested for disorderly conduct at the event.
Spencer, who is the director of the National Policy Institute, has been widely-condemned for his radical views on white nationalism. He announced the scheduled appearance in a video released last week via his Twitter account.
The university initially issued a statement in support of Spencer’s right to speak, though it also condemned his views, saying they “run counter to those of this institution.”