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 disfavor.
Such is the case with Maggie DeJong.
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 The university rescinded the orders on Feb. 28.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.
What's at stake?
The First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause prohibits public universities and their officials from retaliating against or disciplining a student for their constitutionally protected speech. It also prohibits discrimination against speech based on its content and viewpoint.
“Rather than accept and embrace diverse ideological perspectives, SIUE officials are determined to force their graduate students to think and speak exactly the same—or stay silent—and they will punish anyone who steps out of line,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gregg Walters. “Maggie has always respectfully shared her religious or political views, which every student is entitled to do under the First Amendment. It is a sad day for civil dialogue and freedom of speech when universities can issue gag orders like those issued against Maggie for nothing more than expressing her beliefs—beliefs held by millions of Americans.”
- 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.
The bottom line
Public colleges and universities should be places where multiple viewpoints and opinions can be heard and discussed. Students should not have their free speech rights violated or face retaliation because their views are disliked by other students or university officials.