BERKELEY (AP) — University of California, Berkeley students who invited Ann Coulter to speak on campus have filed a lawsuit against the university, saying it is discriminating against conservative speakers and violating students’ rights to free speech.
Harmeet Dhillon, a San Francisco attorney who represents the Berkeley College Republicans, filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
Dhillon is also an RNC committeewoman from California.
“I never thought I’d be on the same side of an issue as Ollie Brown, Bernie Sanders, Bill Mahr and Keith Ellison,” Dhillon said during the press conference.
Free speech is one of the few things that crosses party lines.
Even liberals have found themselves defending the right of conservative pundit Coulter to speak at Berkeley.
“Ann Coulter is odious, but she has every right to be odious,” Gavin Newsom said Saturday.
Campus Republicans invited Coulter to speak at Berkeley this Thursday, but Berkeley officials informed the group last week that the event was being called off for security concerns.
After the university backtracked and offered an alternate date, Coulter has insisted that she plans to still come Thursday.
Coulter tweeted Monday that the lawsuit “demands appropriate & safe venue for my speech THIS THURSDAY.”
According to the lawsuit, three campus groups sponsored an event with Coulter set for April 27. Initially, UC Berkeley officials treated this like any other event. But a few weeks ago, the university said it would apply a new, unwritten policy for high-profile speakers
“Abruptly somebody on high said ‘Oh, that’s a high profile person. Implement the policy. Implement the double-secret policy Dean Wormer,'” said Dhillon.
The policy is that high-profile speakers must speak before 3 pm in a securable location. Dhillon argued there is no definition of “high profile” or “securable.”
So far, the secret policy has only been used aginst conservative speakers.
“We’re going to decide based on how unpopular your speaker is where that person gets to speak and when,” said Dhillon.
That, says Dhillon, is a plain violation of the First Amendment.
Law professor Rory Little said this could just be a matter of the school trying to adjust to a new reality of violence.
“It’s not surprising that they have changed their policy in light of security concerns they haven’t seen for the last 40 years,” explained Little.
He said the school is probably scrambling to put the new security policy in writing and that Berkeley is the perfect place to set a new First Amendment precedent.
“This lawsuit is inspired as much by belief in the First Amendment as it may be by just the delicious irony of finally making Berkeley roast on its own grill for a little while,” said Little.
Monday afternoon, UC Berkeley offered a statement in response to the lawsuit announcement.
“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 allegation contained in the complaint filed by Young America’s Foundation that Ms. Coulter is being prohibited from speaking because of her conservative views is untrue. As the complaint itself notes, Young America’s Foundation has sponsored many other speaking events at UC Berkeley in past years, including that of conservative political commentator and author Ben Shapiro, and the organization’s efforts have led many notable conservatives to share their viewpoints with students and the public on campus. 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.”
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