Attorneys with the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit Thursday on behalf of Young America’s Foundation, California State University-Los Angeles Young Americans for Freedom, columnist Ben Shapiro, and a CSU-LA student, challenging the unconstitutional policies and practices of the university.
Shapiro was scheduled to give a presentation entitled “When Diversity Becomes a Problem” at CSU-LA on Feb. 25, as part of a free speech event organized by YAF. University officials first attempted to shut down the event. When those efforts failed, professors helped incite a mob of protestors to block entry to the venue.
“The cornerstone of higher education is the ability of students to participate in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ on campus,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “Instead, student groups and Mr. Shapiro encountered systematic and violent opposition to a free speech event promoting diversity of opinion. When public universities discriminate against points of view they don’t like, they violate both the First Amendment and a core purpose behind their own existence. This type of viewpoint discrimination cannot and will not stand.”
In January 2016, YAF partnered with Shapiro to host a nationwide speaking tour at college campuses including CSU-LA to discuss free speech in higher education. One week before the event, on Feb. 18, the university informed YAF that Shapiro’s “topics and views are controversial” and that YAF would therefore be required to pay $621.50 to provide security. Four days later, on Feb. 22, CSU-LA President William Covino sent an e-mail to YAF cancelling the event and saying it would be “best for our campus community.” Covino added that he would schedule a “more inclusive event” where Shapiro could speak “as part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity.”
When YAF went forward with the event as planned, hundreds of protestors—aided by professors and faculty of the university—flooded the university’s Student Union and physically blocked access to the theater where Shapiro was scheduled to speak. Professor Robert Weide made multiple posts on Facebook in which he called YAF supporters “white supremacists,” compared them to Hitler, and threatened violence against them.
“CSU-LA unilaterally decided what ideas are permissible, in a flagrant violation of the First Amendment, and even allowed an aggressive mob to menace free speech supporters,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Hacker. “The defendants’ actions violated numerous university policies, as well as state and local laws. By blocking access to the event, the protestors created a serious safety hazard and denied our clients’ fundamental rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection of law.”
ADF filed the lawsuit, Young America’s Foundation v. Covino, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.