– Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom representing a student group, a national nonprofit, and conservative speaker and author Ben Shapiro filed a federal lawsuit
Thursday against the University of Minnesota after its officials suppressed and censored conservative viewpoints using its “Large Scale Events Policy.” The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the policy, which officials used to restrict, relocate, and downsize an academic lecture delivered by Shapiro and hosted by Young America’s Foundation and student group Students for a Conservative Voice.
“No university official has the authority to suppress viewpoints simply because of how someone might respond to it,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Like all government officials, public university administrators have an obligation to respect free speech rights. The First Amendment secures the freedom of all students and their speakers to participate in the marketplace of ideas, and it prohibits university officials from enforcing policies that impose restrictions based on content or viewpoint.”
SCV, a recognized student organization at UMN, invited Shapiro to speak at a campus lecture on Feb. 26 because the group believed his viewpoints were underrepresented and treated unfairly by faculty and administrators at the university. At SCV’s request, YAF agreed to provide assistance and financial support.
SCV students requested use of Willey Hall, a 1,056-person facility located on the Minneapolis campus near public transportation. However, despite the facility’s availability when requested, university officials gave the student group the run-around, arbitrarily capped the number of attendees to 500 persons, and banished the event to UMN’s St. Paul campus, depriving hundreds of students the opportunity to attend the Shapiro lecture and participate in a dialogue on matters of public concern. The university justified its discrimination because, as one official said, Shapiro’s speech would be “controversial and a security concern.”
“The free and open exchange of ideas is critical to a student’s education, but the University of Minnesota is depriving its student body of an intellectually diverse learning environment,” said YAF Spokesman Spencer Brown. “Administrators’ discriminatory treatment of conservatives—quarantining Shapiro and a limited number of students who wished to hear his ideas to a remote area of the St. Paul Campus—was a result of administrators’ disagreement with the viewpoint of Shapiro’s speech. Young America’s Foundation remains committed to holding administrators accountable for their censorship of conservative students at the University of Minnesota and across the country.”
Founded by William F. Buckley Jr. in the 1960s, Young America’s Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate the public on the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, traditional values, and leadership.