Students sue college for sabotaging conservative event
Higher Education | Lawsuit claims Cal State LA tried to silence free speech
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 12/08/16, 02:15 pm
In a hearing this week, a California university asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit alleging the university intentionally tried to shut down and block access to a conservative speaking event.
The Young Americans for Freedom at California State University–Los Angeles filed the lawsuit in May against administrators and faculty. The suit claims the university’s opposition to a free-speech event featuring conservative columnist Ben Shapiro violated students’ and Shapiro’s constitutional rights to free speech, equal protection, and due process.
Formerly the editor-at-large at Breitbart, Shapiro, a lawyer and nationally syndicated columnist, founded and now edits The Daily Wire. Shapiro’s talk at Cal State LA, entitled “When Diversity Becomes a Problem,” was about attacks on free speech in higher education.
One week before the February event, university officials told YAF it had to pay a $621.50 fee to provide security because Shapiro’s views and topics were controversial. The group refused.
Four days later, university president William Covino sent an email to YAF canceling the event, saying he would instead schedule a “more inclusive event,” featuring Shapiro “as part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity,” something Covino said would be “best for our campus community.” When YAF moved forward with the event, some professors encouraged students to protest, and hundreds of people blocked the entrances and exits of the venue.
Only a small number of students made it in to hear Shapiro. Some were sneaked in through a back entrance a few students at a time. After the event, campus police told Shapiro and the students they could not guarantee their lives or safety if they exited the room.
“The cornerstone of higher education is the ability of students to participate in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ on campus,” said Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), who is representing the plaintiffs, including Shapiro. “Instead, student groups and Mr. Shapiro encountered systematic and violent opposition to a free-speech event promoting diversity of opinion.”
University administrators claimed they did everything they could to protect all parties. Langhofer disagreed, citing a video where Covino specifically says he ordered campus police not to interfere with the protesters as they blocked the doors to the student union theater. The complaint claims Covino permitted protesters to “engage in unlawful, disorderly, and disruptive conduct” designed to silence the event.
The lawsuit includes allegations against several university faculty as well, saying they encouraged students to attend the protest, participated in blocking access to the doors, claimed the event was put on by “white supremacists” and constituted “hate speech,” and threatened violence against YAF supporters.
YAF is still active at the college. The group is hosting events on campus and is now one of the largest YAF chapters in the nation.
Langhofer said he anticipated a ruling on the motion to dismiss soon. The suit includes six claims, some filed against university administrators, some against university faculty, and some against both groups. If the judge dismisses any claims, Langhofer said, ADF will likely appeal.