RESTON, VA — On Thursday, May 19 Young America’s Foundation filed a lawsuit against California State University Los Angeles (CSULA) for censoring CSULA Young Americans for Freedom’s (YAF) February 25 lecture featuring Ben Shapiro. With the legal assistance of Alliance Defending Freedom, Young America’s Foundation, Ben Shapiro, and a CSULA student are suing William Covino, the university president, various administrators, and two professors who repeatedly targeted the YAF chapter, for violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
We are accustomed to school administrators’ attempts to silence our students’ conservative speech. But even we were shocked by President Covino’s blatant admission of his viewpoint discrimination.
Students have a Constitutionally protected right to engage in free speech that school administrators don’t like. The cornerstone of higher education is the ability of students to participate in the “marketplace of ideas” on campus. That marketplace depends on free and vigorous debate and the ability to offer diverse and competing views.
Young America’s Foundation is the largest youth outreach organization in the Conservative Movement. We introduce young people to conservative ideas no longer taught and, increasingly, no longer tolerated in schools. Young Americans for Freedom, our chapter affiliate, is active on campuses across the country. Like many students who attend our programs, CSULA YAF chapter chair Mark Kahanding was inspired to build the YAF chapter on his campus after attending two YAF conferences with Conservative Movement leaders and students from across the country. Mark wanted his peers to benefit by learning conservative ideas suppressed by California State University’s faculty and administration. We helped Mark start his YAF chapter and arranged to have Ben Shapiro speak at his free speech event, which was subject to numerous censorship attempts by university employees.
Just three days prior to the scheduled event, the President of CSULA, William Covino, sent an e-mail to CSULA YAF canceling the event because it would be “best for our campus community” but stating that he would schedule a “more inclusive event” where Shapiro could speak “as part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity.” We refused to agree to the unconstitutional censorship and chose to proceed with the event as originally scheduled. On the day of the event, President Covino allowed the lecture to occur, noting nevertheless that he “strongly disagree[d] with Mr. Shapiro’s views.” Consequently hundreds of protestors flooded the University’s Student Union and physically blocked access to the theatre in which Shapiro was scheduled to speak, violating both state and local law.
Arranging campus lectures and assisting conservative students in their efforts to promote free speech is a large part of what Young America’s Foundation does on a daily basis. So it is noteworthy that this particular event stands out to us as one of the most bizarre and troubling censorship attempts we have ever encountered in our five plus decades of experience.
Universities are supposed to serve as institutions of learning, not indoctrination. Colleges should be a place where ideas are freely shared, not silenced through intimidation and threats of violence.
CSULA violated these critical standards in an egregious way.
When conservative organizations have to pursue legal action against public universities in order for students to enjoy full access to their Constitutionally protected rights to free expression, it’s time for us to consider the question, “Should this really be happening in the United States of America?”
In our country, the Constitution is the only permission slip students need to exercise their right to free speech.
This is a disappointing but necessary step in order to hold the school accountable.
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