Attorneys for conservative Christian groups are suing the president of Cal State Los Angeles for damages over what it alleges are the university’s “unconstitutional policies and practices” stemming from a protest-ridden on-campus speech in February by author and political commentator Ben Shapiro.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed the complaint against university President William A. Covino and others in Los Angeles federal court on behalf of Shapiro, CSULA’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom and similar groups.
Cal State Los Angeles spokesman Robert Lopez said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.
North Hollywood-based Shapiro was scheduled to give a presentation entitled “When Diversity Becomes a Problem” at the university on Feb. 25 as part of a free speech discussion. Covino initially canceled the event, sparking a wave of campus protests, but later had a last-minute change of heart and the talk went on.
Shapiro’s appearance was met with a variety of protesters and, in the midst of his speech, a fire alarm went off in the theater.
“The cornerstone of higher education is the ability of students to participate in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ on campus,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said. “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.”
According to the suit, the campus Young Americans for Freedom partnered with Shapiro to host a nationwide speaking tour at colleges — including CSULA – – to discuss free speech in higher education.
A week before the event, the university informed the student group that Shapiro’s “topics and views are controversial” and that YAF would therefore be required to pay $621.50 to provide security, the suit contends.
Four days later, on Feb. 22, Covino e-mailed YAF, saying the event was cancelled, a move he said would be “best for our campus community,” according to the lawsuit.
Covino, the lawsuit contends, 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 — after the university agreed not to impose the security fee — hundreds of protestors, “aided by professors and faculty of the university,” flooded the student union and blocked access to the theater where Shapiro was scheduled to speak, the complaint alleges.
“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,” ADF Senior Counsel David Hacker said. “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.”
The lawsuit seeks a judge’s ruling that the university’s security fee policy and associated practices are unconstitutional, and that the school violated the Bane Act, which provides protection from attempts to interfere with someone’s state or federal statutory or constitutional rights.
— Wire reports