UC Berkeley students sue school administrators over Coulter talk

Julia Cheever (BCN)
Monday April 24, 2017 - 10:40:00 PM

A student group and a foundation sued University of California at Berkeley administrators in federal court in San Francisco today, claiming they discriminate against and restrict speakers with conservative viewpoints.  

The lawsuit by Berkeley College Republicans and Young America's Foundation comes after the campus, citing security concerns, last week cancelled a speech by conservative commentator Ann Coulter planned for Thursday.  

The Tennessee-based foundation is a sponsor and partial contributor to the event.  

A day after canceling the speech, the university on April 20 offered to allow Coulter to speak at an unidentified "appropriate, protectable venue" on the campus from 1 to 3 p.m. on May 2.  

But the lawsuit says the two groups rejected the May 2 proposal as a "sham alternative" because it would have been during the time known as dead week, when there are no classes and many students are off campus studying for exams. 

Coulter, meanwhile, said last week she plans to go ahead with speaking on the campus on Thursday as originally planned. 

The lawsuit claims the university is violating the groups' constitutional rights of free speech and equal treatment. 

It alleges that university administrators and campus police use a vague and unpublished policy on security for high-profile speakers "to restrict and stifle the speech of conservative students whose voices fall beyond the campus political orthodoxy." 

It asks for a court order barring the officials from restricting expression at the Berkeley campus, from discriminating against the two groups and from unilaterally canceling events by the two groups that have met the publicly announced university requirements. 

Young America's Foundation President Ron Robinson said in a statement, "It is unfortunate that the very school that is considered the 'birthplace of the Free Speech Movement' is now leading the charge to censor thoughts, ideas, and debate. 

"The University of California at Berkeley's selectively applied approach to 'free speech' is unacceptable," Robinson said. 

The university, in a statement issued through spokeswoman Dianne Klein, denied discriminating against Coulter and said it is dedicated to finding a time and place for her to speak safely. 

"The University of California welcomes speakers of all political viewpoints and is committed to providing a forum to enable Ann Coulter to speak on the Berkeley campus," the statement said. "UC Berkeley has been working to accommodate a mutually agreeable time for Ms. Coulter's visit -- which has not yet been scheduled -- and remains committed to doing so."  

"The campus seeks to ensure that all members of the Berkeley and larger community -- including Ms. Coulter herself -- remain safe during such an event," the statement said. 

The defendants in the case are UC President Janet Napolitano, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, Interim Vice Chancellor Stephen Sutton, Dean of Students Joseph Greenwell, UC Berkeley Police Chief Margot Bennett, Capt. Alex Yao and Patrol Lt. Leroy Harris.