On Thursday, May 19, Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro joined Young America’s Foundation and a CSULA student to file a lawsuit against California State University Los Angeles (CSULA) for censoring CSULA Young Americans Foundation's (YAF) February 25 lecture featuring Shapiro and violating the plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The Alliance Defending Freedom is representing the plaintiffs.
CSULA YAF chapter chair Mark Kahanding, the student plaintiff, joined with YAF to issue an invitation for Shapiro to speak on the campus on February 25. As YAF noted:
Just three days prior to the scheduled event, the President of CSULA, William Covino, sent an e-mail to CSULA YAF canceling the event because it would be “best for our campus community” but stating that he would schedule a “more inclusive event” where Shapiro could speak “as part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity.” We refused to agree to the unconstitutional censorship and chose to proceed with the event as originally scheduled. On the day of the event, President Covino allowed the lecture to occur, noting nevertheless that he “strongly disagree[d] with Mr. Shapiro’s views.” Consequently hundreds of protestors flooded the University’s Student Union and physically blocked access to the theatre in which Shapiro was scheduled to speak, violating both state and local law.
At Thursday’s press conference, Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, spoke next to three easels, one of which showed a poster advertising Shapiro’s speech, one which showed YAF’s Facebook website which featured threats made by one of the professors at the University, and a third which showed a poster made groups attempting to shut the event down.
Langhofer adumbrated the plaintiffs’ position as he recalled the events at CSULA, which turned into a near-riot as the chilling events unfolded:
Public universities should be a place where ideas are freely shared. They should promote and celebrate free speech, not silence it through administrative filibuster, unconstitutional policies, intimidation and threats of violence. Yet that is exactly what happened to our clients when they tried to hold, of all things, a Free Speech Event … a student group, Young Americans for Freedom at CSULA, reserved space in the student union theater to host well-known media personality Ben Shapiro on February 25, 2016 to give a topic titled, “When Diversity Becomes A Problem.”
Soon after, protesters, including a CSULA professor, began posting angry and threatening comments on the event’s Facebook page. The university then told the students that they would be required to pay $621.50 for security because Mr. Shapiro’s views and topics are controversial. This type of arbitrary hurdle put in front of students to suppress their First Amendment freedoms, is unconstitutional.
Three days before the event was to occur, the President of CSULA, William Covino, sent an e-mail to YAF canceling the free speech event suggesting that Mr. Shapiro come back at a later date to be part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity. This condition has never been placed on other groups that take extremely controversial liberal viewpoints; and again, was a burden on our client’s First Amendment freedoms and is unconstitutional. YAF and Mr. Shapiro and Young Americans Foundation refused to cancel the event.
During the run-up to the event, at least four CSULA professors were actively engaged in a variety of attempts to intimidate and threaten YAF students into canceling the free speech event and inciting other professors and students to join in. One professor organized a student union takeover to stop YAF’s free speech event; another professor called YAF’s supporters “white supremacists” and compared them to Hitler. He also challenged the students to a fight on two different occasions on social media.
On the day of the event, several professors actively participated in the attempt to shut down YAF’s event by physically blocking access to the doors, preventing students from being able to attend the event. These professors interfered with the First Amendment rights of the YAF students by doing whatever they could to stop the free speech event, and prevent them from being able to hear Mr. Shapiro’s message. These actions are not just reprehensible, particularly in an environment designed for a free exchange of ideas; they are also illegal …
The day of the event, YAF students arrived to find activists camped out in front of the student union. They discovered the campus was blanketed with flyers urging students to participate in a “Power to the People” rally and take over the student union to prevent Shapiro from being able to deliver his speech.
Just an hour before the event, President Covino issued a press release, again announcing his opposition to Mr. Shapiro’s views, but also allowing the event to proceed. He promised to make every effort to ensure a climate of safety and security. This did not happen. Students hoping to attend the event arrived to find hundreds of activists in and around the venue where the free speech event was to be held, their arms locked together to prevent entry to the auditorium. When a few were able to get in the back entry, activist moved to block those doors as well, effectively trapping over 100 students and Mr. Shapiro inside the auditorium, and preventing the same number of students from being able to attend the event.
Meanwhile, the campus police officers, in charge of ensuring a climate of safety and security, stood by and did nothing, as they were instructed to do by President Covino. After Mr. Shapiro delivered his speech, students inside the auditorium were advised by campus security that their lives would be in danger if they tried to leave the building.
Langhofer concluded, “The cornerstone of higher education is the ability to participate in the marketplace of ideas on campus. Instead, these students and Mr. Shapiro encountered systematic and violent to a free speech event promoting diversity of opinion.”
After Amy Lutz of YAF, who helped supervise the event, and Kahanding spoke, Shapiro was the last speaker. He powerfully articulated exactly why the lawsuit was filed, and concluded with a stirring paean to free speech:
Free speech on college campuses, particularly publicly-sponsored campuses, is not merely a necessity: it’s a right. But that right is being quashed all across the country by administrators who are significantly more intent on indoctrinating students and eliminating dissent than giving students the opportunity to hear different ideas and reach their own conclusions about those ideas.
It’s time for that to stop. And that’s our goal today. To stop administrators from using taxpayer dollars to shut down free debate, prevent the dissemination of new ideas, and kowtow to the anti-speech bullies who think that they own the campuses that we pay for.
I pay taxes in this state. I help sponsor the tuition of the students who attend this university. I help pay the salaries of the administrators and the professors. And yet when conservative students on this campus merely wanted to hold an event at which I would speak basic conservative ideas, the administration here first attempted to charge conservative students extra money. When that failed, they tried to shut me down. When that failed, they ordered their police force to allow thug protesters and agitators to prevent access to the student-sponsored event. The police, at the behest of this administration, did nothing as these ideological fascists blocked entrances and exits, physically assaulted people who wanted to enter, made threats and pulled the fire alarm. Professors at this university helped to organize and cheer all of this on.
This is unacceptable. This is un-American. This is cowardly. This is behavior more reminiscent of third world countries than it is of the United States. And that’s why we’re taking Cal State University Los Angeles to court. Students can’t be educated if they never hear different ideas; that’s mere indoctrination. Their feelings are significantly less important than liberty in the pursuit of knowledge. Anything less than that is totalitarianism. Free speech on state-sponsored campuses must be protected, and if a university refuses to protect free speech, we’ll fight to restore it. We will fight to restore freedom of association and freedom of assembly. Too many Americans have fought and died for those rights to hand them over to a bunch of crybaby snowflake fascists and their weak-kneed leftist enablers paid for by our taxpayer dollars. Free speech needs a safe space, and so we’re fighting to preserve and create that safe speech.
It’s called America, and if we don’t fight for it now, nobody will.