Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced that three professors at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) will undergo a First Amendment training session – provided by ADF attorneys – for violating a former student’s civil and constitutional rights.
ADF, a non-profit legal organization working to protect life, free speech and religious liberty, said the settlement also means the school will pay a fine and must change its policies:
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.
VICTORY: We successfully settled the case against SIUE officials for violating the #1A rights of former art therapy grad student Maggie DeJong.
As a result, 3 professors are required to attend an ADF attorney-led First Amendment training, along with program policy changes.
— Alliance Defending Freedom (@ADFLegal) July 27, 2023
As previously reported by the Daily Citizen, Maggie DeJong was a student at SIUE, earning a Master of Arts in Art Therapy Counseling in May 2022. While pursuing her graduate degree, she expressed her Christian and conservative beliefs on social media, in class and in discussions with other students.
Some students were offended by DeJong’s beliefs and actions. For example, she wore a “Back the Blue” hat in support of law enforcement officers. Her professor and some students were offended by this. They said she was racist for wearing the hat, and it made them feel “unsafe.”
In February of 2022, James Ball, SIUE’s Director for Equal Opportunity, Access, and Title IX Coordination sent DeJong “no contact” orders, forbidding her “from having ‘any contact’ or even ‘indirect communication’” with three other students in the program.
Another email informed all the students in the Art Therapy program that “Ms. DeJong was under investigation and accused her of ‘misconduct’ and ‘oppressive acts.’”
In an interview with The Daily Citizen, ADF Senior Counsel and Director of the Center for Academic Freedom Tyson Langhofer said 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.
ADF filed a lawsuit against SIUE officials on her behalf, alleging that school officials violated her freedom of speech and engaged in viewpoint discrimination.
The complaint also said that school officials violated SIUE’s own policies and procedures – including a requirement “to ‘take all reasonable steps to ensure confidentiality’ during an investigation of a student for alleged misconduct.”
The suit said:
Because of Defendants’ actions, Ms. DeJong has suffered sleeplessness, anxiety, chest pains, feelings of sadness, loss of appetite, weight loss, lack of concentration, harm to her reputation, and future loss of employment and wages.
Public universities can’t punish students for expressing their political and religious viewpoints. 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.
The Daily Citizen hopes that other universities, professors and students learn from this case about the importance of free speech and religious liberty. As ADF explains, “Universities cannot censor students because of their religious or political views,” and they “cannot ban students from speaking to fellow students or fully participating in their classes simply for expressing their views.”
Congratulations to Maggie DeJong for battling for free speech and winning this important victory.
The case is DeJong v. Pembrook.
Related articles and resources:
Photo from Shutterstock.