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'We silence voices all the time in this country,' says SUNY college president now facing viewpoint discrimination lawsuit

ADF attorneys represent TPUSA chapter at State University of New York Cortland
College Desks

CORTLAND, N.Y. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing two students and the Turning Point USA chapter they started at the State University of New York Cortland filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against school officials and the student government association for excluding them from being a recognized student organization because of the group’s views.

During the fall semester, SUNY Cortland students Gabriella Delorenzo and Megan Rothmund assembled with other students to form a TPUSA chapter at the university to bring together students who value freedom, free markets, and limited government. However, the Student Government’s Student Senate withheld recognized group status to the chapter because it disagreed with the national TPUSA organization’s views. Student senators acted with SUNY Cortland Professor Nikolay Karkov to question and demean Turning Point’s views for approximately 100 minutes. When the students raised the issue with SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum, he warned that they would likely be denied again, telling them, “We silence voices all the time in this country. That’s the tragedy and also the greatness of democracy.”

“Colleges are meant to be marketplaces of ideas where students learn to respect and defend diverse beliefs held throughout the country, but unfortunately, many college officials are encouraging students to silence opposing views,” said ADF Legal Counsel Mathew Hoffmann. “SUNY Cortland’s policy requires the student government to approve every organization seeking recognition and it allows students to deny recognition for any or no reason at all. Allowing the views of the perceived majority to gatekeep campus discussion discriminates based on viewpoint. But the First Amendment exists precisely to protect competing views.”

“Turning Point USA is deeply concerned about the open hostility our students, Gabriella Delorenzo and Megan Rothmund, were subjected to during the SUNY Cortland’s Student Senate hearing,” said TPUSA spokesman Andrew Kolvet. “Most notably, Professor Nikolay Karkov opted for inflammatory remarks over constructive dialogue, which raises grave concerns about the status of free speech on that campus. TPUSA stands by our SUNY Cortland students and will pursue all available avenues to address the injustices they've faced. We call on the administration to uphold diversity of thought and fairness in its treatment of all student organizations.”

Over the course of two months, Delorenzo and Rothmund followed all of the steps to comply with SUNY Cortland’s Nonrecognition Policy, but at the student senate meeting where the student government would vote to approve or deny recognition, numerous student senators and Karkov arrived with pre-planned remarks to criticize TPUSA’s views. In a time dedicated to questions, the professor spent several minutes assailing the students for TPUSA’s views. Karakov told the TPUSA chapter, “We’re not here to support you.” Several students loudly heckled Delorenzo and Rothmund and told them to “go home” before the senate voted to deny recognition after the two-hour meeting. Students then took to social media to continue to criticize TPUSA.

In December, Delorenzo and Rothmund met with college officials to seek recognition for TPUSA. Bitterbaum informed the students that they had no appeal right, saying he looked into his “crystal ball” and said the same group would likely again withhold recognition if TPUSA reapplied.

ADF attorneys filed Turning Point USA at SUNY Cortland v. Cortland College Student Association in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.

Michael G. McMartin of Michael G. McCartin Law PLLC, one of more than 4,500 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, is serving as local counsel on behalf of the TPUSA chapter, Delorenzo, and Rothmund.

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to protecting First Amendment and related freedoms for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.

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Mathew Hoffmann
Mathew Hoffmann
Legal Counsel
Mathew Hoffmann serves as legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a key member of the Center for Academic Freedom.