Young Americans for Liberty is the largest pro-liberty student group in the country, with some 900 college chapters across the landscape.
Its members “share a mutual respect for freedom, the U.S. Constitution, and the natural rights of life, liberty, and property.”
But now, it appears, the University of California at Berkeley is vehemently opposed to those values.
After all, it has refused to recognize the organization on campus.
“It is absurd to think that other Berkeley groups are lighting the campus on fire and throwing rocks through windows, but YAL’s efforts to peaceably promote the message of liberty are being shunned by university administrators,” said Cliff Maloney, YAL’s president.
“This incident is exactly why Young Americans for Liberty launched the national Fight for Free Speech campaign. All students, regardless of ideology, should be guaranteed their First Amendment right to free speech,” he said.
Caleb Dalton of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the students, said public universities “are supposed to be a ‘marketplace of ideas’ for students, but that can’t happen when administrators are allowed to pick and choose which student organizations will be recognized based on the students’ views.”
“By leaving decisions on whether a student group is ‘too similar’ to another club in the hands of a university official who isn’t required to follow any viewpoint-neutral standards, UC-Berkeley has allowed for unconstitutional discrimination,” Dalton said.
While YAL “aims to promote and defend the principles of liberty – such as the principle of open discourse and free speech,” Berkeley has excluded YAL from its registered student organizations.
That means the group is not allowed to receive the campus benefits that other student group are routinely granted.
For example, the group is prohibited from reserving space for meetings, it cannot invite speakers and it cannot access the pool of funds to which its members contribute.
The campus already allows Cal Berkeley Democrats, Progressive Student Association, Socialist Alternative at Berkeley and the Queer Alliance $ Resource Center.
But Berkeley officials claim the YAL organization is “too similar” to Cal Libertarians, who already are recognized.
“Instead of fostering a marketplace of ideas, UC-Berkeley is using government regulation to limit exposure to ideas – repressing rather than expanding freedom,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox.
He directs the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s judges, legislators and voters, and UC-Berkeley is communicating to that generation the troubling message that government gets to decide which views can be expressed,” he said.
The 22-page complaint names as defendants University of California system President Janet Napolitano, UC-Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, interim UC-Berkeley Vice Chancellor Stephen Sutten and a number of unidentified individuals.
There are more than 1,000 student organizations already in the Berkeley “forum” for registered groups.
“While they do not speak for the university and the university is not responsible for the speech of student groups, they further the university’s educational mission by fostering an environment of the open exchange of ideas of campus,” the complaint explains.
The campus practices and policies, however, lack “objective, content and/or viewpoint neutral criteria” to judge groups, so it’s up to administrators to decide whether a new group seeking recognition is “too similar.”
Many of the existing groups already have overlapping missions and goals, including some that are “almost identical,” the complaint argues.
“YAL has suffered actual damages by being denied access to … funding and thus expending funds in excess of $50 that would have been covered,” the complaint explains. “YAL’s members have suffered actual damages by being forced to pay into a system of unconstitutionally administered student fees.”
The university, the complaint charges, “knew or should have known that by denying YAL … status without justification that it violated its constitutional rights.”
The complaint charges the students’ rights to free association, free speech and equal protection have been violated.
It seeks an injunction preventing enforcement of the school’s policies.
Spokesman Dan Mogulof told WND the process for YAL isn’t finished.
“UC Berkeley categorically rejects the allegation that a decision regarding the status of a student organization was made based on the group’s political perspectives or beliefs. University of California policies clearly and specifically preclude denying recognition based on political viewpoint. It has never happened in the past, and will never happen in the future. We also note that it was only a few weeks ago that the University recognized and welcomed the formation of a new Registered Student Organization for conservative students, the ‘Berkeley Conservative Society,'” he said.
“University policies do seek to ensure that there is not more than one group with the exact same focus or charter, given that there are approximately 1,000 student organizations on the Berkeley campus. The YAL’s initial application was very similar to an existing Libertarian organization. However, they are still able to register and be recognized. All they need to do is confer with the Libertarian organization and decide if they want to combine or remain separate. In short, the process is not yet complete.”