The University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) is now facing a federal lawsuit for allegedly violating the free speech rights of its students when it cancelled a session with conservative pundit Ann Coulter planned for April 27, Reuters reports.
According to Reuters, the student groups that invited Coulter to speak – Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation – named University of California president Janet Napolitano, UC Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks, and three campus police officials in the lawsuit filed at the federal court in San Francisco.
The lawsuit says UC Berkeley’s move to “burden or ban” Coulter’s, as well as other high-profile speakers with conservative viewpoints, was in violation of their constitutional rights, despite the school’s promise to be a space for “free debate and the free exchange of ideas”. The students are seeking an unspecified sum for “monetary damages arising from the unconstitutional actions” from the school officials, as well as legal costs.
I would still slap a lawsuit on @UCBerkeley for preventing freedom of speech. They should be required to protect it since they are public.
— Gibby_Lab (@Gibby_Lab) April 20, 2017
While not a plaintiff in the legal suit, Coulter is in support of it.
In an email to Reuters, Coulter said it was part of “our demand university administrators and Berkeley police to do their jobs, stop violating the Constitution, and provide me with an appropriate, safe venue for my speech this Thursday.”
School officials, however, have denied the allegation their action to cancel or reschedule Coulter’s speech on campus was due to the political views of the conservative figure.
“The allegation … that Ms. Coulter is being prohibited from speaking because of her conservative views is untrue,” Dianne Klein, a spokeswoman for Janet Napolitano said.
Another spokesman said the issue was a matter of security, with the school receiving “letters and threats” from around the country.
“Ann Coulter is welcome on this campus, but at a time when we can provide a venue that law enforcement professionals believe to be protectable,” UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said to The New York Times.
Klein said the school was “committed to providing a forum to enable Ann Coulter to speak on the Berkeley campus.”
Last Tuesday, UC Berkeley officials abruptly cancelled Coulter’s April 27 speech based on security intelligence that found Coulter, her audience and expected protesters may be in grave danger if the event proceeded this week.
However, two days later, the school reversed course and rescheduled the event for May 2 at an “appropriate, protectable” venue instead.
Coulter has rejected the May 2 date, saying she and her security detail could not arrange to be on campus that day. She also tweeted there would be no classes on the “Dead Week” the new date falls on.
Coulter then vowed to speak on April 27 anyway, regardless of the cancellation.
“So I’m planning on speaking on the 27th as scheduled. Maybe they will arrest me,” she said in an email to Reuters.
On Friday, Berkeley College Republicans threatened to sue the university.
Campus events nationwide involving conservative figures like Coulter have evoked tension and sometimes violent clashes with liberal-leaning student bodies who believe racial demagoguery should be opposed as aggressively as possible.
When alt-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at Berkeley in February, the protests by some 1,5000 turned chaotic, as windows were smashed and firecrackers were shot into buildings.
This violence was over WORDS. BBC News – UC Berkeley halts Milo Yiannopoulos talk amid violent protest https://t.co/eX2sueW1um
— Becca H (@LadyOnTheRight1) April 25, 2017
Rory Little, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law said UC Berkeley was facing “new conditions” and had not seen such “level of violence in a long time”.
Little said the group’s complaint was likely not enough to show a pattern, as it was based on just a handful of conservative speakers.
“They are going to get a lot of publicity,” Little said of the groups that brought the lawsuit.
“This is more of a political move than it is a legal move.”