A university has been ordered by a judge to pay a Christian student $80,000 for silencing her conservative views as part of a settlement, while three professors are also being required to undergo First Amendment training as a result of the lawsuit.
In her lawsuit brought by the conservative Christian legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom, the student claimed that Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) censored her speech and discriminated against her after her fellow students complained about conservative and pro-life posts that she had made on her social media pages.
Conservative student Maggie DeJong received three “no-contact orders” from SIUE last year, which banned her from having “any contact” or even “indirect communication” with three other students who had complained about her political views.
During a previous appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends First,” DeJong revealed that she had often participated in classroom discussions about a variety of “contentious” topics — including race relations, religion, COVID and censorship.
ADF's Tyson Langhofer and our new client, Maggie DeJong, appeared on @FoxNews to discuss her case.
"Maggie never violated any university policy, yet the university issued no-contact orders … simply because they deemed her beliefs unwelcome."https://t.co/9yTgN2LAux
— Alliance Defending Freedom (@ADFLegal) June 13, 2022
However, the real problem began when she received the “no-contact orders” because three of her classmates were offended by her social media posts. According to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Tyson Langhoffer, DeJong had offended her classmates by defending Kyle Rittenhouse and denouncing critical race theory — which prompted SIUE to prohibit her from fully participating in classroom discussions.
ADF asserted that the university had asked DeJong’s classmates to report her for “harmful rhetoric,” then issued the “no-contact orders” without even giving her the chance to defend herself against the allegations.
“Maggie wasn’t given a chance to defend herself. When they issued the orders, university officials didn’t even tell her what the allegations against her were, and they did not identify a single law, policy, or rule that she had violated. That’s because she hadn’t violated any,” DeJong’s legal team wrote in an explanation of the case on the ADF’s website last year.
The university ultimately settled the lawsuit with DeJong, with the settlement requiring the school pay $80,000 to the conservative student and instruct three of its professors to take free speech training.
SIUE is also required in the settlement to revise their student handbook and policies to “ensure students with varying political, religious and ideological views are welcome in the art therapy program.”
When contacted about the settlement, a spokesperson for SIUE directed Fox News to a statement from Chancellor James T. Minor, who insisted that the university is “unequivocally committed to protecting First Amendment rights and does not have policies that restrict free speech nor support censorship.”
“For decades, universities have embraced the challenge of vigorously protecting free speech while at the same time creating a safe learning environment for the expression of diverse views. Protecting these two principles can create tensions,” Minor’s statement continued.
Meanwhile, ADF Legal Counsel Mathew Hoffman also issued a statement about the settlement on Thursday — noting that “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,” the statement continued.
"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."
– ADF Mathew Hoffmann.
— Alliance Defending Freedom (@ADFLegal) July 27, 2023