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Pro-liberty student group’s lawsuit prompts NJ university to abolish bias response team, end unconstitutional policies

ADF attorneys represent Young Americans for Liberty club forced to stop speaking at Montclair State University without permit

NEWARK, N.J. – Montclair State University has agreed to abolish its Bias Education Response Taskforce and change unconstitutional policies that university officials used to force students to stop peaceful, expressive activity without a permit and discriminate against student groups.

As part of a settlement ending a federal lawsuit Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed on behalf of the campus chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, the university has agreed to allow free expression in all common outdoor areas of campus, remove its unconstitutional hierarchical class system for student organizations, and abolish the taskforce, whose express purpose was to silence unpopular speech on campus.

“Universities cannot arbitrarily pick and choose which students can speak freely on campus,” said ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross. “Montclair State University’s previous policy placed burdensome restraints on speech and allowed university officials to selectively enforce those restraints against groups they didn’t like. Thankfully, the university has agreed to revise these unconstitutional policies to ensure that all students are treated fairly, regardless of viewpoint.”

On Sept. 10, 2019, Mena Botros and two fellow students dressed in orange jumpsuits and held up signs voicing their support—as pretend criminals—for gun-free zones. The purpose was to express their belief that laws creating gun-free zones only benefit criminals and harm law-abiding citizens. Despite peacefully expressing their ideas in a common outdoor area of campus, a campus police officer forced them to stop. He told the students that anyone who wants to speak on campus has to obtain permission at least two weeks in advance, and that the dean’s office would assign them a time and place to speak.

Under the settlement agreement, Montclair State University eliminated the two-week prior permission requirement and agreed to overhaul its student government’s current class system, allowing all student groups equal opportunity to be officially recognized by the university and receive funding from the student fees imposed on each student. The university also disbanded its Bias Education Response Taskforce and agreed to pay the YAL chapter’s attorneys’ fees and damages in the amount of $42,000.

“Today’s university students will be tomorrow’s voters and civic leaders,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “That’s why it’s so important that universities promote the First Amendment values that they are supposed to be teaching students. Montclair State University has shown it wants to do that by taking corrective action in revising its policies to protect free speech.”

“Campus administrators and members of an unconstitutional Bias Education Response Taskforce are not allowed to dictate what can and can’t be said on a taxpayer-funded public university campus,” said YAL Director of Free Speech JP Kirby. “I’m proud of the YAL members at Montclair State for standing up for their constitutional rights and for this win, which allows all people the freedom to express their beliefs and be heard on campus.”

In light of the settlement reached in Young Americans for Liberty at Montclair State University v. The Trustees of Montclair State University , ADF attorneys intend to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit on behalf of their clients.

Michael Laffey, one of nearly 3,500 attorneys allied with ADF, served as local counsel for the Young Americans for Liberty chapter.

  • Pronunciation guide: Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.

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Tyson Langhofer
Tyson Langhofer
Senior Counsel, Director of Center for Academic Freedom
Tyson Langhofer serves as senior counsel and director of the Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending Freedom.
Michael Ross
Michael Ross
Legal Counsel
Michael Ross serves as legal counsel for the Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending Freedom