Conservatives scored a major legal victory against UC Berkeley which has agreed to compensate Young America’s Foundation and Berkeley College Republicans for trampling the First Amendment rights of conservative speakers and students on its campus.
"Young America’s Foundation is thrilled that, after more than a year of UC Berkeley battling against the First Amendment rights of its own students, the University finally felt the heat and saw the light of their unconstitutional censorship," said YAF spokesman Spencer Brown.
"YAF’s landmark victory for free expression—long squelched by Berkeley’s scheming administrators who weaponized flawed policies to target conservatives—shows that the battle for freedom undertaken by YAF on campuses nationwide is a necessary one."
The Trump administration previously weighed in on the side of the campus conservatives who argued UC Berkeley’s restrictive policies violated First Amendment free speech rights and the equal protection and due process guarantees in the Fourteenth Amendment.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest on behalf of the two groups. The department “will not stand by idly while public universities violate students’ constitutional rights,” Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand said at the time.
UC Berkeley’s hostility toward free speech is well-established. The school appears in the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE) annual list of the ten worst colleges for free speech. Berkeley has a “yellow light speech code rating” from FIRE because it restricts speech, denies students accused of misconduct the “right to challenge fact-finders,” and denies students accused of sexual misconduct the right to counsel.
The administration at UC Berkeley only pretended to adhere to the First Amendment’s speech protections. When conservatives have been scheduled to speak on campus, the administration typically didn’t forbid their appearances. Instead, it made the speeches inconvenient to the point of impossibility, for example, forcing students to use venues a mile off campus or at times when students couldn’t attend. Berkeley also often required non-leftist groups to hand over thousands of dollars to defray security costs, a requirement not rigorously or consistently imposed on left-wing speakers or groups.
An aggressive crackdown on non-leftist speech came after Berkeley officials—emboldened by an Antifa mob blocking a Feb. 1, 2017 campus appearance by firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos—decided to formalize viewpoint discrimination in the school’s policy on speakers.
The speech, which was sponsored by the David Horowitz Freedom Center (publisher of Frontpage), itself never happened. Police stood down and allowed left-wing students and activists to “no-platform” Yiannopoulos because they didn’t like his views. Demonstrators caused $100,000 in damage to the campus and several times as much damage to the surrounding town.
Court documents indicate UC Berkeley adopted an unwritten “high profile speaker policy” on March 1, 2017, to impose restrictions on speaking engagements by conservative intellectuals like David Horowitz and Ann Coulter. By Aug. 14, 2017, the university had published a written “Major Events Hosted by Non-Departmental Users” policy to restrict a speech by conservative radio host Ben Shapiro. As a result, Shapiro was reportedly charged $9,000 to speak at UC Berkeley, a fee the school called “lawful and appropriate.”
The threat of violence by Antifa at UC Berkeley also led to the cancelation of a planned on-campus premiere of a documentary film this writer executive-produced, America Under Siege: Antifa, during Yiannopoulos’s planned Free Speech Week at the school.
But all of this leftist insanity will be changing, assuming the university honors the agreement that ended the year-old federal lawsuit.
Under the terms of the out-of-court settlement YAF attorney Harmeet K. Dhillon reached with UC Berkeley this past weekend, the university will pay Young America’s Foundation $70,000, rescind its unconstitutional "high-profile speaker policy," rescind its viewpoint-discriminatory security fee policy, and abolish its heckler’s veto—protesters will no longer be allowed to shut down conservative expression.
“This landmark victory for free expression means UC Berkeley can no longer wantonly treat conservative students as second-class members of its community while ignoring the guaranteed protections of the First Amendment,” according to YAF.
Under the settlement’s provisions, UC Berkeley will no longer be able to impose a 3:00 p.m. curfew on conservative speech. Nor will it be able to ban advertisements for YAF-sponsored campus lectures or relegate conservative speakers to remote or inconvenient lecture halls on campus while giving leftist speakers access to preferred locations.
“Further, the policy that allowed Berkeley administrators to charge conservative students $20,000 for security to host Ben Shapiro—an amount three times greater than the fee charged to leftist students to host liberal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor—is gone,” according to YAF.
“YAF and UC Berkeley agreed to a fee schedule that treats all students equally. Unless students are handling money or serving alcohol at an event, the security fee will be zero.”
This is one of those rare legal cases in which conservatives received justice.
Conservatives and other patriots should savor it.