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Grad student wins case against University that punished her for expressing her Christian, political views

by | Jul 31, 2023

By Dave Andrusko

Add another victory in the win column for free speech. Alliance Defending Freedom [ADF] reported that it had carried the day for  former art therapy graduate student Maggie DeJong. Miss DeJong had filed suit against officials at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for violating her civil and constitutional rights because she holds views informed by her Christian faith that differed from many of her fellow students.  

According to ADF, as part of the settlement, its lawyer “will conduct a First Amendment training session with three professors at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville” [SIEU]. Also as part of the settlement, “university officials also agreed to revise both their policies and student handbook to ensure students with varying political, religious, and ideological views are welcome in the art therapy program. In addition, university officials paid $80,000.”

“Public universities can’t punish students for expressing their political and religious viewpoints,” said ADF Legal Counsel Mathew Hoffmann. “Maggie, like every other student, is protected under the First Amendment to respectfully share her personal beliefs, and university officials were wrong to issue gag orders and silence her speech. As a result of Maggie’s courage in filing suit, SIUE has agreed to take critical steps to comply with the law and the U.S. Constitution and move closer to accepting and embracing true diversity of thought and speech.”

Background

ADF explained that while a graduate student in SIUE’s Art Therapy program, “DeJong, like many other students, posted materials to her social media accounts, sent messages to fellow students, and engaged in class discussions on an array of topics, including religion, politics, critical race theory, COVID-19 regulations, and censorship. But because DeJong’s views—informed by her Christian faith and political stance—often differed from those of other students in the art therapy program, several of her fellow students reported her speech to university officials. In February 2022, those officials issued no-contact orders against DeJong, prohibiting her from having ‘any contact’ or even ‘indirect communication’ with three fellow graduate students who complained that her expression of religious and political viewpoints constituted ‘harassment’ and ‘discrimination.’”

However

Two weeks after receiving a letter from ADF informing the university that stifling DeJong’s speech based on her viewpoint is unconstitutional, officials finally disclosed the materials underlying the no-contact orders and related investigation. That same day, the university closed its baseless investigation of DeJong, but not before violating her First Amendment rights and tarnishing her reputation because of her beliefs. As part of the settlement agreement, university officials agreed to revise their policies to ensure students have substantive and procedural protections from no-contact orders so no other student will have to endure the unlawful treatment DeJong experienced.

“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.”

Categories: Judicial Pro-Lifers