Cal State L.A. agrees to drop discriminatory speech policies, settles lawsuit
Attorney sound bite: Tyson Langhofer
LOS ANGELES – In the wake of a student group’s lawsuit, California State University–Los Angeles has dropped several of its discriminatory speech policies and practices that school officials used to shut down the group’s speaking event last year. In light of the changes, Young Americans for Freedom and others suing the university dismissed their lawsuit, which Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys had filed on their behalf after school officials deployed a mob to block students and guests from attending an event featuring conservative speaker, editor, and columnist Ben Shapiro.
Young Americans for Freedom scheduled Shapiro to give a presentation on freedom of speech and diversity at Cal State L.A. in February 2016 as part of an event co-sponsored by the Young America’s Foundation. University officials first attempted to shut down the event by charging the group $621.50 for security and then cancelled Shapiro’s visit. When those efforts failed and the event was able to proceed, professors helped incite a mob of protestors to block entry to the venue where Shapiro was speaking.
“Instead of playing favorites toward some while shutting out others, universities should provide a level playing field so that all students can engage freely in the marketplace of ideas,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, who argued before a federal court in December of last year on behalf of YAF. “Cal State L.A.’s acknowledgment that the university can’t charge fees for speech it labels ‘controversial’ is a recognition that the prior policy violated the students’ freedom of speech. The university’s changes should enable students to organize future events in a safe and civil environment.”
“Last year’s near-riot at Cal State L.A. was a travesty with regard to free speech,” Shapiro said. “I’m excited that we were able to come to an agreement with them to protect free speech in the future, and I look forward to coming to the campus soon to speak again. Hopefully this time, we can have an honest, open, and productive discussion rather than violence and chaos from those who disagree.”
“We hope the university’s affirmation of its free speech policies will help ensure that they will truly apply to all individuals and organizations at Cal State L.A. and not just leftist professors and organizations,” added Young America’s Foundation President Ron Robinson. As a result of the agreement, YAF and Shapiro are working to bring Shapiro back to the campus later this year.
In addition to dropping unconstitutional security charges that are based on the viewpoint being expressed at an event, the university has agreed that it will not cancel or refuse to schedule a speaker based on their viewpoint and will enforce the university’s Free Expression Policy in a viewpoint-neutral manner. That policy prohibits actions that would block or disrupt access to any event on campus. Because the university opposed Shapiro’s viewpoint, it had refused to enforce the policy when school officials allowed protesters to block access to the event.
Last May, ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Young America’s Foundation v. Covino, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division, on behalf of Young America’s Foundation, the Cal State L.A. chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, Shapiro, and a Cal State L.A. student. Stephen Shepard, one of nearly 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, served as local counsel in the case for the plaintiffs.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, commissioners, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “It should disturb everyone when any university communicates to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter. This agreement will pave the way to more freedom for students and speakers at Cal State L.A.”
- Pronunciation guide: Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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