Justice Department sides with free speech on campus

The Justice Department has filed a statement of interest siding with two conservative groups that have sued the University of California at Berkeley for violating their First Amendment rights. The DOJ’s filing argues that the plaintiffs — the Young America’s Foundation and the Berkeley College Republicans — properly pleaded that Berkeley violated these rights, and that therefore the court should not to dismiss the plaintiffs’ case at the pleadings stage. The Department takes no position as to whether the lawsuit ultimately will prove meritorious.

The plaintiffs allege that college administrators and police have tried “to restrict their free speech by creating practical roadblocks to their events.” Last year, events featuring David Horowitz, Ann Coulter, and Milo Yiannopolous were cancelled at Berkeley due to security fears.

Berkeley argues that “the allegations made by the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are unfounded,” that “Berkeley does not discriminate against speakers invited by student organizations based upon viewpoint,” and that “the campus is committed to ensuring that student groups may hold events with speakers of their choosing.” The University claims it “took reasonable steps to facilitate Plaintiffs’ events while balancing the competing concerns for security, the University’s limited resources, and its educational mission.”

This seems like a dispute over the facts — one that should proceed so the factual dispute can be resolved. This, I take it, is DOJ’s argument at this point in the proceedings.

The Justice Department is to be commended for defending free speech on campus. Attorney General Sessions has been outspoken on this issue, as has Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand. As Brand recently stated in an article for Fox News:

Free speech is under attack at college campuses across the country. The problem is not limited to a few colleges barring radical speakers to avoid a riot. Universities large and small, public and private, are restricting students’ and professors’ speech or enabling others to silence speech with which they disagree.

Matt Zapotosky’s article for the Washington Post’s article on DOJ’s involvement in the Berkeley case does not take sides. However, I couldn’t help but notice the article’s title in the paper edition: “Justice Dept. wades into lawsuit on free speech.”

I wonder whether the Post used the phrase “wades into” when it wrote about the Obama administration’s involvement in the restroom wars.

The Justice Department should “wade in” to defend free speech. After all, it’s in the Constitution. The right to use a restroom with members of the opposite sex, not so much.


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