University and college campuses used to be heralded as open forums where virtually any topic could be discussed in a civil fashion and different ideologies and viewpoints could be debated in a rational manner, a veritable bastion of free speech.
Unfortunately, far too many of those campuses have become increasingly closed-minded and beholden to one particular ideological viewpoint, with those who offer dissenting views shouted down or shunted off to the side where nobody can hear them.
This can be seen viscerally in the treatment received by conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro and Ann Coulter, as well as the student groups who invite them to speak on campus, by both liberal student activists who try to silence them and the liberal faculty who encourage those actions, as well as the cowed administrations who allow it all to happen.
But according to the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative advocacy group for right-leaning young people, some conservative students on the campus of the University of Minnesota are fighting back against what they view as ideological discrimination against them by the school and a violation of their First Amendment rights — and they have even prepared a lawsuit to back them up.
A letter was recently sent from the Alliance Defending Freedom conservative advocacy group to the university’s general counsel which essentially put them on notice that the school would be sued if it did not provide equal access and accommodation to the group Students for a Conservative Voice and their invited guest speaker Ben Shapiro.
At issue was a speaking engagement on campus by Shapiro scheduled for Feb. 26 that had been planned for months. The university had denied the SCV group access to host Shapiro in two large, centrally located buildings on campus, and instead offered up a small venue on a separate campus that would be inaccessible to most students. They further also threatened to levy a “security fee” of $5,000 on the student group to cover any “costs” to the school that Shapiro’s speech may incur, a fee not typically levied against other student groups or their invited guest speakers.
The letter made clear that “students do not ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” and pointedly noted that “The University of Minnesota employed a heckler’s veto by denying conservative students equal access to university facilities on the basis of the students’ viewpoint.”
That point was bolstered by the fact that the school was allowing threats of protests and other disruptions by other student groups opposed to SCV and Shapiro to be considered as a basis for moving the venue of the speech to an inaccessible area while disallowing the use of a main venue specifically designed to host student events.
Indeed, the letter pointed out that the centrally-located Willey Hall, the desired venue of SCV for Shapiro’s speech, has in recent years hosted high-profile guest speakers such as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and conservative author Ann Coulter, as well as countless other speakers and roundtable discussions, without any security issues or the need for a “security fee” — which SCV also views as “viewpoint discriminatory” toward them.
The letter pointed to case law precedent which showed that the imposition of financial burdens on individuals or groups based on the content of their speech was unconstitutional. In essence, the “security fee” should be charged of all groups hosting events or none at all, but the school can’t pick and choose who has to pay and who doesn’t, particularly on an ideological basis.
Making the matter even more infuriating was the revelation that while the SCV and Shapiro were being shunted to the side, an office within the school’s administration was actively sponsoring a “counter-event” to Shapiro’s speech.
“It is fundamentally unfair to deny SCV equal access to a university facility because those critical of SCV may protest the content of their speech,” the letter stated. “Others’ reaction to the content of SCV’s speech does not give the University the authority to restrict or place limitations on SCV’s speech, at least not constitutionally.”
“On behalf of SCV, we demand that the University of Minnesota respect the First Amendment rights of all of its students, regardless of viewpoint, by allowing Ben Shapiro to speak in Willey Hall on February 26, 2018 at 7:00pm,” the letter from ADF attorney Tyson Langhofer concluded. “We also demand that this event be allowed to proceed without the imposition of a security fee based on the actions, or potential actions, of those critical of Mr. Shapiro and SCV.”
“You are on notice of potential imminent litigation and are required to abide by all relevant preservation of evidence rules,” the letter warned in closing.
This is an incredible effort by this conservative student groups and the advocacy groups that have backed them to push back against the ideological stymieing of debate on college campuses these days, and though we’d love to see the University of Minnesota relent in their actions to shut down SCV and Shapiro, we almost hope they remain firm so the lawsuit can proceed, hopefully setting a free speech precedent for future student groups and guest speakers.
Please share this on Facebook and Twitter to let everyone know about the conservative student group at the University of Minnesota that has threatened a lawsuit if their First Amendment rights continue to be trampled by the liberal school administration.
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