An Illinois university is paying a former student $80,000 in a settlement after she claimed the school silenced her for expressing Christian conservative views, according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
Former graduate student Maggie DeJong filed the lawsuit against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) last year.
She was enrolled in SIUE’s art therapy counseling program when school officials issued three “no contact” orders against her in Feb. 2022 and launched an investigation after other students complained her views were “harmful” and “harassment.”
DeJong shared her opinions in classroom discussions on religion, COVID-19, censorship, Marxism, and Critical Race Theory (CRT). She also posted about her pro-life position and defense of Kyle Rittenhouse on her Instagram account, according to ADF.
She was banned from having “any contact,” including “indirect communication” with three art therapy students who complained.
“Maggie wasn’t given a chance to defend herself,” her legal team wrote in a case explanation. “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.”
The lawsuit was filed against former SIUE Chancellor Randall Pembrook; Jamie Ball, the director for Equal Opportunity, Access, and Title IX coordinator; and Megan Robb, program director of the Art Therapy Counseling Graduate Program.
“Public universities can’t punish students for expressing their political and religious viewpoints,” said ADF attorney Mathew Hoffmann. “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.”
As a result of the settlement, three professors will receive mandatory First Amendment training, which Hoffmann called one step “closer to accepting and embracing true diversity of thought and speech.”
The university will also revise its policies and student handbook to “ensure students with varying political, religious, and ideological views are welcome in the art therapy program.”
SIUE Chancellor James Minor acknowledged the settlement in a statement to the New York Post and called on people to “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.