Officials at the University of California, including Janet Napolitano, the president, were sued on Monday in federal district court for their practice of shutting down the voices of conservative activists.
The case was filed on behalf of Young America’s Foundation, Berkeley College Republicans and conservative columnist and author Ann Coulter in response to the University of California at Berkeley’s cancellation of a scheduled speech by Coulter.
Coulter tweeted: “Our lawsuit against Berkeley was just filed. Demands appropriate & safe venue for my speech THIS THURSDAY + damages.”
The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and a judicial declaration that the defendants violated the constitutional rights of the two organizations under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, by “selectively enforcing the High-Profile Speaker Policy against BCR and YAF.”
Those decisions, the lawsuit contends, unreasonably restricted the “time, place, and manner of political speech” and resulted in a ban on the “expression of conservative viewpoints on the UC Berkeley campus.”
It’s no surprise that universities, and Berkeley in particular, routinely suppress conservative voices. Libertarian Milo Yiannopolous and conservative David Horowitz both had scheduled speeches at Berkeley canceled recently.
The lawsuit also names as defendants Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Stephen Sutton, Associate Vice Chancellor Joseph Greenwell, university Police Chief Margo Bennett, Operations Division Captain Alex Yao and Patrol Lt. Leroy Harris.
The fracas began when Coulter announced she was scheduled to speak on the UC Berkeley campus, and school officials insisted she meet a list of demands.
They argued Coulter was so controversial she would need extra security. They later changed the date and time of her scheduled speech – so that it was planned at a time when students largely would be absent from campus – but Coulter refused the change.
WND reported a February melee on campus forced Yiannopolous to cancel his event. Rioters beat up Trump supporters, pepper-sprayed bystanders, looted a Starbucks, smashed bank windows and ATMs, and spray-painted “Kill Trump” on storefronts.
An April 12 speaking engagement by Horowitz was canceled when the school insisted he speak during a time when students are in class and in a room on a separate campus.
The lawsuit charges the university admitted in a letter it chooses to limit speech as a result of the “successful misconduct” of some off-campus interest groups.
“In other words, all one has to do to silence conservative speakers at U.C. Berkeley is to don a mask and become violent, or place anonymous phone calls to the administration threatening such violence,” the lawsuit said.
But the U.S. Constitution doesn’t permit hecklers to veto free speech.
The lawsuit argues: “Defendants freely admit that they have permitted the demands of a faceless, rabid, off-campus mob to dictate what speech is permitted at the center of campus during prime time, and which speech may be marginalized, burdened, and regulated out of its very existence by this unlawful heckler’s veto.”
A spokesman for Berkeley didn’t respond immediately to a WND request for comment.
The school used curfew rules, venue restrictions and time mandates against conservatives, while at the same time allowing left-wing speech from former Mexico President Vincente Fox and former Clinton adviser Maria Echaveste – many times on the same topics.
By those political tactics, the lawsuit alleges, “defendants have deprived YAF and BCR of their constitutional rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection. Accordingly, YAF and BCR seek temporary and permanent injunctive relief to prevent defendants from continuing to muzzle plaintiffs’ constitutionally protected speech, and to enjoin the defendants’ transparent attempts to stifle political discourse at UC Berkeley.”
The lawsuit alleges the university improperly adopted a secret “high-profile speaker policy” that gives campus officials virtually unlimited discretion to oppose speakers they don’t like.
During attempts to arrange the Horowitz speech, the lawsuit explains, school officials wanted attendance limited and that the location be kept secret “until hours before the event.”
The school also demanded nearly $5,800 for a “security fee.”
During the attempt to arrange Coulter’s speech, things got even worse, the lawsuit explains. She was refused permission by the school to speak at the time and place that had been arranged, and now has promised to use a bullhorn on campus if school officials won’t allow her in an auditorium.
School officials, however, said they will impose time and place restrictions. The speech had to end by 3 p.m., and it would have to be in a building they approved or “the event could not proceed.”
School officials also specifically refused to “issue any public statement regarding the university’s commitment to protecting students from violent protesters.”
The complaint charges the school is using its speaker policy “to control campus speech.”
“Defendants are further allowing their subjective opinions about the anticipated reactions from critics – including a mob of masked, off-campus, ‘antifa’ – to dictate whether they choose to define a speaker to be subject to the High-Profile Speaker Policy, and there by impose a host of hurdles to their appearance that do not apply to speakers presumable welcome to the same critical mob (and university administrators).”
After public pressure, the university then unilaterally canceled the Coulter event, only offering another time and place during a week when most students are not on campus.
“The university has attempted to bully BCR and BridgeCal out of holding the Coulter event at all, by escalating the arbitrary requirements on the event, concealing the High-Profile Speaker Policy until shortly before the university’s cancellation, and concealing their true intentions behind a smokescreen of platitudes and misrepresentations. The High-Profile Speaker Policy, with its infinitely malleable ‘securable location’ parameters, ensures that university officials can pick and choose which speech to permit, and then justify their illegitimate censorship by pointing to their unwritten and unconstitutional policy,” the claim contends.
Worse yet, it claims Berkeley allows criminal elements – a “masked mob” that previously had caused violence – to determine who speaks on campus.
But those actions violate the First Amendment right to freedom of expression, ban on retaliation, due process under the 14th Amendment and equal protection.
The suit seeks a court order allowing the speech to take place, damages, lawyers’ fees and costs.
Reason.com said Dean compounded his erroneous argument, claiming later in a tweet that Coulter’s rhetoric “is NOT protected speech under the first amendment’ because it amounts to ‘fighting words.”
“He is wrong again.”