The University of California, Berkeley is trying to get a judge to dismiss the First Amendment lawsuit filed by conservative students after the school blocked Ann Coulter from speaking.
The suit alleges that UC administrators have systematically stifled “the speech of conservative students whose voices fall beyond the campus political orthodoxy,” claiming that Berkeley has selectively enforced a new “high profile speaker” policy in order to deny conservatives a platform on campus.
In a court document obtained by Campus Reform, attorneys for the defendants—who include UC System President Janet Napolitano and UC-Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks—petition the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to dismiss the allegations as “moot,” arguing that it has since replaced the “high profile speaker” policy, and that in any event the school was within its rights to shut down Coulter’s speech because it didn’t do so explicitly on the basis of her political viewpoints.
“The alleged restrictions were viewpoint neutral because they were not motivated by disagreement with the speaker’s viewpoint,” the attorneys assert, adding that the restrictions were also “constitutional ‘time, place, and, manner regulations’ because they were content neutral, narrowly tailored to serve the significant government interests in safety, education, and distribution of university resources, and left open ample alternative channels of communication.”
Young America’s Foundation (YAF), which filed the lawsuit in conjunction with the Berkeley College Republicans, derided UC’s motion to dismiss as “bizarre” in a post on its website Thursday, pointing out that Berkeley has yet to unveil its new free speech policy and insisting that the school’s actions were “clearly viewpoint-discriminatory.”
“This weak attempt by the University of California, Berkeley to brush off their egregious free speech violations is staggering but unfortunately unsurprising given their demonstrated pattern of suppressing the First Amendment rights of conservatives on campus,” YAF spokesman Spencer Brown declared, pledging that “YAF will continue to stand up for students’ rights when their own schools engage in flagrant obstruction of free expression.”
“It is preposterous that the university is attempting to dismiss a valid lawsuit over the idea that they plan to make future policy changes,” Berkeley College Republicans member Naweed Tahmas told Campus Reform, saying he is skeptical that the new policy will be the panacea for free speech that university officials are promising.
“While I am happy that the university has finally realized their draconian policies need reform, it does not excuse them of their past actions,” Tahmas continued. “Given UC Berkeley’s well-documented precedent of censoring conservative speakers, I have little faith that the university will take any substantial strides in making UC Berkeley the home of free speech again.”
CR President Troy Worden offered a similar assessment, saying the club is encouraged but not convinced by the school’s public statements on the matter.
“The UC Berkeley administration claims they have modified and codified their ‘high-profile’ speakers policy such that the First Amendment rights of the Berkeley College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation are no longer in jeopardy,” he observed cautiously, saying the move “would be a welcome development if it does what university administrators claims it does.”
For now, though, Worden acknowledged that all conservative students can do is “await this new speakers policy” and hope it is “not aimed at shutting down conservative speech on campus.”
Spokespersons for UC-Berkeley did not respond to a request for comment from Campus Reform.