Maggie DeJong, in her third year of a master’s program for art therapy counseling at Southern Illinois University (SIU), was shocked recently to receive official emails from the school’s administration ordering her to have “no contact” with three other graduate students in her program, either on or off campus.
What was this Christian student guilty of? What would prompt the university to issue the educational equivalent of a restraining order against her?
According to her attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the only thing DeJong was told in emails from the university is that “upon information and belief that interactions between yourself [and the other students] would not be welcome or appropriate at this time.”
DeJong was given no prior notice of the complaints against her nor was she given an opportunity to defend herself against whatever accusations have been lodged against her.
In an interview with The Daily Citizen, Tyson Langhofer, ADF Senior Counsel and Director of the Center for Academic Freedom, told us that Maggie has been singled out at times by her professors and fellow students for criticism of her Christian beliefs, even telling her that her beliefs are wrong, insensitive and contrary to the values of the program in which she is enrolled.
For example, Langhofer said, Maggie at one point was texting back and forth with another student who asked her about her beliefs. Maggie informed her that her personal beliefs are grounded in objective truth by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The conversation was friendly and conversational. Yet Maggie’s exact text ended up on a piece of art in a common area at the school entitled “The crushing weight of micro-aggressions.”
Maggie is in her final semester of her graduate studies and has been a good classmate to these students now for a couple years, according to Langhofer. She is friends with the very students she has been prohibited from having any interaction with, and she has had good relationships with them in the past.
“It’s difficult to understand why it’s coming out now,” he said.
More importantly, the university’s action violates the First Amendment. Langhofer sent a letter to SIU’s Chancellor, Randy Pembrook, demanding an immediate retraction of the “no contact” orders.
After laying out the ways in which SIU’s actions violated Maggie’s rights, the letter states, “[W]e demand that you immediately rescind the three no contact orders issued on February 10 and assure us in writing that the University will either (a) stop interpreting and enforcing its policies in this manner or (b) revise its policies to adequately safeguard students’ constitutional rights. If you fail to comply with these demands by close of business on February 25, 2022, our client will have no option but to consider other avenues for vindicating her rights.”
Langhofer says that this case provides a teachable moment for prospective students and their parents as they consider enrolling at a public educational institution in a day and age where Christian beliefs are more counter-cultural than ever.
“One, they need to understand the culture they’re going into. Everybody has different situations, and a public university may be the right choice for somebody. But they need to understand the environment they’re going into. That environment will be hostile to their Christian beliefs, their Christian worldview. They’ll experience hostility.
“Two, a public university, instead of saying, hey, that’s an interesting viewpoint, unfortunately, will many times kowtow to the people demanding that you not express that viewpoint. And they will use their power to suppress that viewpoint through issuing no contact orders like this.
“And third, parents need to understand that they ought to equip their students, their children, with knowledge and with courage. Because what we know is that if you’re courageous enough to speak the truth, you will receive criticism. But it’s the right thing to do.”
We ought to be grateful for believers like Maggie who fight these fights not just for herself but for others who will come after her.
“Maggie chose to fight this because she realizes there are people – other students like her – who are afraid to stand up. She doesn’t want them to experience the same problems that she has,” Langhofer said. “She’s not standing up just for herself but for all the students that that may come behind her, to tell the university, ‘This is not okay. You’re not living up to your values and your ideals and you need to act differently.’”
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