When students applied last year to start a Young Americans for Liberty chapter at the University of California Berkeley, they were told the organization was “too similar to Cal Libertarians.”
That won’t happen again under a settlement reached Monday. The university agreed to revise its policies on club recognition by prohibiting organizations from being rejected based on their “purpose or uniqueness, mission statement, or other viewpoint.”
The agreement was hailed on the right as a free-speech victory for student organizations fighting viewpoint discrimination at the famously left-of-center campus.
“Public university officials can’t discriminate against students because of their personal beliefs,” said Caleb Dalton, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which sued the university in December.
The lawsuit pointed out that Berkeley had previously recognized other student organizations despite their overlapping missions, such as the Queer Alliance & Resource Center, Queer Student Union and UNITY Resource Center.
“By leaving decisions on whether a student group is ‘too similar’ to another club in the hands of a university official with no requirement to follow any viewpoint-neutral standards, UC-Berkeley allowed for unconstitutional discrimination, but these changes fix that problem,” said Mr. Dalton in a statement.
The university, which has wrestled in recent years with free-speech issues involving protests over conservative speakers, also agreed to pay $8,250 in damages and attorneys’ fees to settle the lawsuit.
“As the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement and a public university, UC Berkeley has done the right thing in agreeing to respect the First Amendment in this matter,” said YAL president Cliff Maloney Jr. “I applaud the students for standing up for their constitutionally protected freedoms and advocating for a level playing field.”
The YAL’s application to become a recognized student organization was denied Sept. 27, a day after it was submitted, by an official with the Berkeley LEAD Center, who told student organizers to “work with” Cal Libertarians.
As a result of the denial, YAL Berkeley was unable to reserve campus meeting space, access campus fees, or reserve facilities for speakers, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court.
Under the revised policy, the center “may encourage, but not require” the applicants to “confer and collaborate” with similar student organizations.
Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof denied last year that the university had engaged in political discrimination, noting that the campus had recently recognized the Berkeley Conservative Society.
Founded in 2008, YAL bills itself as the “largest and fastest-growing libertarian and conservative youth organization in the country,” with about 900 chapters.
“This case is a part of YAL’s national Fight for Free Speech campaign that has successfully revised 37 unconstitutional speech policies and restored First Amendment rights for 756,712 students,” according to the group.
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