Prominent conservative Ben Shapiro and two conservative groups sued the University of Minnesota for violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The July 3 lawsuit alleges the school discriminated against Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), Students for a Conservative Voice (SCV) and Shapiro’s event by moving it to a smaller venue.
YAF obtained emails in June that showed top school administrators moved Shapiro’s speech because because of concerns about community protests.
“No university official has the authority to suppress viewpoints simply because of how someone might respond to it,” Tyson Langhofer, director of the Alliance Defending Freedom Center for Academic Freedom, said.
The Feb. 26 event was set to take place in Willey Hall, a 1,056-person facility located on Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. However, the event moved to Northstar Ballroom, a 400-person event space on the school’s St. Paul campus.
The policy at question in the lawsuit is the Large Scale Events Policy. This policy states the university can determine if a facility is available for a “potentially large-scale event.” Also, the policy says that agreement upon the venue can’t take place without the “approval of the decision makers.”
This policy nicknamed in the lawsuit the “Speech Suppression Policy” tried to censor speech the school disagrees with, according to the lawsuit.
The school used this policy on SCV when the group hosted Lauren Southern, a conservative commentator. Southern’s October 25, 2017 appearance changed location three different times, according to the lawsuit.
If the lawsuit is successful, the plaintiffs want the school to stop enforcing the Large Scale Events Policy and cover attorney fees.
At first, SCV booked Willey Hall for the Shapiro speaking engagement. Upon booking the hall, the university told SCV that the event qualified as a large event because “the event represented a significant security concern due to the content and viewpoint to be expressed by Shapiro.”
Minnesota could determine event details, including where the event took place since it fell in this category. Thus, the school moved the event to the . The lawsuit claims the university’s decision to move the event to the North Star Ballroom on the St. Paul campus prevented people from attending.
Top school officials worried how the school’s surrounding community would react to Shapiro’s event. Minnesota’s Police Chief Matt Clark wanted to limit the crowd limited to 500 people. Also, Assistant Director of Student Activities Erik Dussault expected protests at the event, according to YAF.
“Administrators’ discriminatory treatment of conservatives was a result of administrators’ disagreement with the viewpoint of Shapiro’s speech,” YAF Spokesman Spencer Brown said.
Plaintiffs argue the school violated their First Amendment rights by barring the groups from using Willey Hall and considering the Shapiro event controversial. Also, the plaintiffs claim the school infringed on their Fourteenth Amendment rights because the school “put restrictions on their speech.”
“Like all government officials, public university administrators have an obligation to respect free speech rights,” Langhofer said. “The First Amendment secures the freedom of all students and their speakers to participate in the marketplace of ideas.”
Minnesota released a statement on Shapiro’s event on Feb. 7 that denied the school downgraded the event for ideological purposes. Also, the school said it was “absolutely untrue that organizers were not sufficiently involved in the event planning.”