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Southern Illinois University will pay a Christian student $80,000 after she filed a lawsuit claiming the school had silenced her conservative political views.
Maggie DeJong, who graduated from the school’s art therapy counseling program last year, sued Southern Illinois University last year, saying her university punished her when other students complained about her being outspoken on her conservative views.
The university settled the lawsuit for $80,000 this week, according to DeJong’s legal team at Alliance Defending Freedom.
“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,” said attorney Mathew Hoffmann of Alliance Defending Freedom in a press release Wednesday.
“As a result of Maggie’s courage in filing suit, SIUE has agreed to take critical steps to comply with the law and the U.S. Constitution and move closer to accepting and embracing true diversity of thought and speech,” Hoffmann said.
As part of the settlement, three professors will take mandatory First Amendment training.
The settlement also requires Southern Illinois University to revise its student handbook and policies to “ensure students with varying political, religious and ideological views are welcome in the art therapy program.”
In her lawsuit, DeJong said the school launched an investigation and issued three “no contact” orders against her when other students complained about her conservative views, dubbing them “harmful” and “harassment.”
The “no contact” orders banned DeJong from having “any contact” or even “indirect communication” with the three other art therapy graduate students who complained.
“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,” her legal team wrote in an explanation of the case on Alliance Defending Freedom’s website last year.
Previously, DeJong said she often spoke up and offered her conservative perspective during class discussions on hot-button topics such as race relations, religion, COVID, and censorship.
DeJong also posted her conservative views on her Instagram account, which included her pro-life position, her defense of Kyle Rittenhouse, and her criticism of Critical Race Theory.
“Justice and truth prevailed in the face of lies and deception from the mainstream media trying to twist the narrative,” DeJong wrote in one post after Rittenhouse was acquitted in 2021 of all charges, including murder, arising from his fatally shooting two men in 2020 during riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“This gives hope to Americans. Praying protection over those jurors who have been threatened their lives,” DeJong wrote.
Southern Illinois University Chancellor James Minor acknowledged the settlement in a statement.
He added, however, that he hoped people would “see beyond the sensationalism of clickbait, media reports and headlines in search of a more complete understanding of the facts.”
“SIUE is unequivocally committed to protecting First Amendment rights and does not have policies that restrict free speech nor support censorship,” Minor said in a statement.