In the United States, colleges and universities have traditionally been bastions of free speech. People with diverse religious, political, and philosophical beliefs have been able to come together for a free and robust debate in the marketplace of ideas in university classrooms, lecture halls, quads, and dorms.
But universities such as Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) have grown more hostile toward religious, political, and philosophical beliefs that university officials or students don’t like.
Such was the case with Maggie DeJong while she attended SIUE to study art therapy. The university tried to punish Maggie for expressing her beliefs, but she boldly stood up for her First Amendment freedoms. Read on to learn more about her case.
Who is Maggie DeJong?
Maggie DeJong graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s art therapy counseling program in May 2022.
While at the university, Maggie would post on her social media accounts, send messages to her fellow students, and engage in class discussions on an array of topics, including religion, politics, critical race theory, the criminal justice system, COVID-19 regulations, Marxism, and censorship.
But she quickly found out that her views, informed by her Christian faith and conservative political beliefs, were often not in line with those held by other students in the art therapy program. Some students said Maggie’s speech was “harmful” and constituted “harassment” and “microaggressions.” They reported her to the university, leading the school to issue no-contact orders against Maggie and investigate her.
In February 2022, SIUE officials—bowing to the cries of graduate school students claiming they were harmed and offended by Maggie’s speech—issued three no-contact orders against Maggie prohibiting her from having “any contact” or even “indirect communication” with her fellow art therapy graduate students.
Maggie wasn’t given a chance to defend herself. When they issued the orders, university officials didn’t even tell her what the allegations against her were, and they did not identify a single law, policy, or rule that she had violated.
That’s because she hadn’t violated any.
Despite all this, university officials threatened “disciplinary consequences” if Maggie violated the no-contact orders and copied the school’s police lieutenant on each order.
Later that month, on Feb. 23, Alliance Defending Freedom sent the university a demand letter asking that it rescind these no-contact orders that were “infringing upon Ms. DeJong’s ability to fully participate in her educational experience and exercise her First Amendment rights.” The university rescinded the orders on Feb. 28.
It wasn’t until March 10, however, that university officials finally disclosed to Maggie the materials underlying the no-contact orders and related investigation. That same day, they closed the investigation and advised her that “no further inquiry or action is anticipated.”
But not before they dragged Maggie’s reputation through the mud and violated her First Amendment rights.
In response, on May 31, ADF filed a lawsuit against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for violating Maggie’s civil and constitutional rights.
SIUE tried to have Maggie’s lawsuit thrown out, but a federal district court allowed the case to proceed. The court ruled that Maggie “clearly has the right, as enshrined in the First Amendment, to express her religious, political, and social views on her personal social media account and to engage in mutual conversations with fellow students regarding those opinions without fear of retaliation from school officials.”
Following the ruling, SIUE officials agreed in a settlement to require three professors to undergo First Amendment training by ADF attorneys. SIUE revised its policies and student handbook to ensure that students with diverse political, religious, and ideological views are welcome in the art therapy program, and it paid $80,000 for its constitutional violations.
- February 2022: Southern Illinois University Edwardsville issued three no-contact orders against Maggie DeJong. In response, ADF attorneys representing Maggie sent a demand letter to the university asking that it rescind the orders. The university did so by the end of the month.
- March 2022: SIUE dropped its baseless investigation into Maggie and disclosed the materials and information that led to it in the first place.
- May 2022: ADF filed a federal lawsuit against SIUE for violating Maggie’s civil and constitutional rights.
- March 2023: A federal district court ruled that Maggie’s lawsuit could proceed.
- July 2023: As part of a settlement, SIUE agreed to require three professors to attend First Amendment training by ADF attorneys. The university also revised its policies to protect students with diverse political, religious, and ideological views.
The bottom line
Universities cannot discipline students for their political and religious views—especially without giving them the opportunity to defend themselves.