Think of it: you’re young, out on your own for the first time, just starting to take the first full measure of your own convictions – Am I committed to this view or idea because I really believe it, or because Mom and Dad told me I should? You’re vulnerable, impressionable, intimidatable … and surrounded, suddenly, by peers and professors and administrators telling you – in very unfriendly terms – that you’re wrong.
That’s the challenge many, many of our children and grandchildren are facing as they move out into the realms of academia, and two recent Alliance Defending Freedom cases spotlight just how thorny the challenge can be.
In Los Angeles, California State University officials cancelled an event sponsored by a student group, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), after club members challenged a special fee they were charged to pay for security officers. The administrators insisted on hiring the security guards for the event – featuring conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro – because “Mr. Shapiro’s topics and views are controversial.”
They based that view on the responses of some university students and staff, who – as YAF promoted the event through fliers and social media – began to post comments calling the YAF members (wait for it …) “intolerant” and “racists.” One particularly unsociable sociology professor went so far as to dub YAF “white supremacists” and invite their members to physically fight him in the university gym. Such remarks apparently stoked administration fears, and they ordered the hiring of the security guards and charged the cost to the club.
YAF, in turn, enlisted ADF attorneys to intervene on their behalf. ADF sent administrators a letter pointing out that, their concerns notwithstanding, the fees marked an unconstitutional intrusion on the YAF students’ First Amendment-protected right to free speech. The university president responded immediately by cancelling the event, having “decided that it will be best” to include the speaker in a “more inclusive event” featuring “a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity.”
“The First Amendment does not require YAF to consolidate its viewpoint with others,” says ADF Senior Counsel David Hacker. “The number of events on university campuses with speakers who have different viewpoints from Mr. Shapiro’s and YAF’s are plentiful. No need or legitimate basis exists for cancelling YAF’s event.”
Apparently, on second thought, the CSU president came to the same conclusion. A few days later – the day of the event – he reversed his decision, announcing that YAF would be allowed to proceed with the event as planned. But then CSU administrators and police allowed protestors to block all doors into the event, preventing many people from hearing Mr. Shapiro.
Photo: Jacqueline Pilar/Young America’s Foundation
“Silencing the speech of students on a public university campus – the very marketplace of ideas – because of their views is not only illogical, it’s unconstitutional,” Hacker says. “The university made the right decision in allowing the Young Americans for Freedom event to proceed as planned and as we requested, without unconstitutional fees, but it failed to protect the free speech rights of YAF and Mr. Shapiro when it allowed protestors to block access to the event.”
[Warning: the following story includes references of a graphic nature.]
The invasion of rights is much more personal in Orlando, Florida, where three female sonography students were told by their Valencia State College faculty that they must undergo transvaginal ultrasounds at the hands of their classmates. When the three objected, college employees verbally abused them, penalized them academically, and threatened to “blacklist” them from future employment.
The three took their case to court, only to have a district judge dismiss their lawsuit, saying that expressing concern about an assignment and then complaining to faculty about it was “not protected speech,” if it threatens a school’s academic and curricular system. (Even, apparently – incredibly – if that system requires a woman to surrender her bodily privacy and undergo an involuntary vaginal probe.) The three have now appealed their case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and ADF has filed a friend-of-the-court brief with that court, asking it to rule in their favor.
“Students don’t surrender their bodily privacy rights when they walk into a public college classroom,” Hacker says. “The fact that we are even discussing whether female students should have to undergo this at the hands of their classmates is bad enough, but the fact that the college retaliated against the students – not just once, but multiple times – for expressing concern about it only makes it more reprehensible.”
These are the kinds of contempt, humiliation, and legal assault young people all over America are facing today, as they attempt to stand up for their personal faith, convictions, and ideals. Pray for their courage, their wisdom, their grace under pressure – and pray for our attorneys, as they defend these students’ legal rights against a growing storm of opposition.
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