Illinois University settles lawsuit for suppressing and persecuting 1st Amendment protected free speech
An Illinois University has settled a lawsuit with a Christian arts student who claimed the University stifled her first amendment right to free speech. Maggie DeJong filed suit against officials at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for violating her civil and constitutional rights because she holds views that differed from many of her fellow students. In March, a federal district court largely rejected the university’s attempt to dismiss her lawsuit.
While a graduate student in SIUE’s Art Therapy program, DeJong, like many other students, posted materials to her social media accounts, sent messages to fellow students, and engaged in class discussions on an array of topics, including religion, politics, critical race theory, COVID-19 regulations, and censorship. But because DeJong’s views—informed by her Christian faith and political stance—often differed from those of other students in the art therapy program, several of her fellow students reported her speech to university officials. In February 2022, those officials issued no-contact orders against DeJong, prohibiting her from having “any contact” or even “indirect communication” with three fellow graduate students who complained that her expression of religious and political viewpoints constituted “harassment” and “discrimination.”
“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 ADF Legal Counsel Mathew Hoffmann. “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.”
As part of the settlement, university officials also agreed to revise both their policies and student handbook to ensure students with varying political, religious, and ideological views are welcome in the art therapy program. In addition, university officials paid $80,000.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Dejong in the case will conduct a First Amendment training session with three professors at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville as part of the successful settlement of a former art therapy graduate student’s lawsuit.
Two weeks after receiving a letter from ADF informing the university that stifling DeJong’s speech based on her viewpoint is unconstitutional, officials finally disclosed the materials underlying the no-contact orders and related investigation. That same day, the university closed its baseless investigation of DeJong, but not before violating her First Amendment rights and tarnishing her reputation because of her beliefs. As part of the settlement agreement, university officials agreed to revise their policies to ensure students have substantive and procedural protections from no-contact orders so no other student will have to endure the unlawful treatment DeJong experienced.
In light of the settlement in DeJong v. Pembrook, ADF attorneys filed a stipulated dismissal of the suit on Wednesday.