They’ve been ordered not to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution. They’ve been denied promotions because of their faith. They’ve been forced to help pay for abortion-inducing birth control. They’ve been judged solely by the color of their skin.
And they’re fighting back. And they’re winning.
Conservative and Christian students and professors who have been denied free speech or faced discrimination and religious persecution because of their beliefs have recently enjoyed a string of courthouse victories in what’s amounting to something of a banner year for such causes.
There’s been at least six big legal wins in as many months.
Take University of North Carolina-Wilmington criminology Professor Mike Adams, who was denied a promotion after he became a vocal Christian. Last month, Adams won a retroactive promotion and back pay, as well as $700,000 in legal fees, in a decision that capped off a seven-year court battle.
And then there was Modesto Junior College student Robert Van Tuinen, who was told he could not hand out copies of the constitution – on Constitution Day – by campus administrators. In February, campus leaders agreed to pay Van Tuinen $50,000 and revise its policies as the result of litigation.
Free speech on college campuses also scored an indirect victory in a Supreme Court decision earlier this summer concerning “false statements” in an Ohio congressional race.
As for affirmative action, in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, a high court ruling in April effectively signaled that the days of race-based admission preferences in colleges could be numbered, and are definitely vulnerable.
Last month, the high court gave the evangelical Wheaton College the injunction it wanted against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, setting a national precedent on the matter.
Wheaton was among dozens of Christian and Catholic universities to file suit against the federal mandate, saying they should not be forced to pay for birth control if it violates their religious beliefs. Now the White House is writing new regulations to allow for such exemptions.
The conservative law firm Alliance Defending Freedom was not only successful at representing Adams in the UNC-Wilmington case, but it also this year successfully defended a Virginia community college student named Christian Parks, who was told by school officials to stop sharing his faith on campus.
As a result of the Parks’ lawsuit, the entire Virginia Community College System recently consented to a court order that prohibits it from enforcing unconstitutional speech policies and zones.
“It’s encouraging that we are seeing courts uphold this fundamental First Amendment freedom in the places where some of the greatest ideas and movements in history have been birthed,” Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in an email to The College Fix.
With the Adams and Parks victories, “everyone wins and freedom of speech expands for all, regardless of where one falls on the ideological spectrum,” Kupec added.
Last year, the firm also successfully defended the rights of Louisiana State University pro-life students, ensuring they have the right to distribute their material anywhere on campus, not just within a small radius.
More court battles are also underway.
In July, a massive litigation campaign was launched against public colleges that retain unconstitutional speech codes, an effort headed up by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
“We’ve been hesitant to go the road of being primarily a litigation group,” but over the past couple years FIRE has realized “we’re not achieving enough” just by public education, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in a press conference.
FIRE also played a role supporting Modesto Junior College student Van Tuinen.
And the Alliance Defending Freedom has filed numerous lawsuits in the past several months to defend conservative and libertarian students and causes.
For example, Boise State University was sued recently by the firm for requiring prolife students to use warning signs when they protest abortion on campus with graphic images of aborted babies.
It also filed suit against the University of Georgia for having a free speech zone that amounts to about one-percent of the campus. And it hit Cameron University with a lawsuit following an allegation that the school’s “Equal Opportunity Officer” refused to allow a student to distribute fliers warning peers about an alleged religious cult on campus.
At UCLA, officials discriminate against students of color in favor of other students of color in admissions practices, and the campus may become the target of the latest litigation to halt racial preferences.
Over in Texas, attorneys for Abigail Fisher in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin – another race-based admissions lawsuit – are now talking about suing Harvard University under the claim that any college that receives federal funds, public or private, cannot use affirmative action.
So said Tim Groseclose, the UCLA professor who wrote the book Cheating, which details the campus’ race-based admissions practices. He made the comments in a mid-June interview with law professor Glenn Reynolds, who agreed more litigation is in the offing.
“I have been noting more and more lawsuits against universities on a wide variety of grounds are succeeding,” Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, said in his InstaVision interview with Groseclose.
Reynolds continued, “I can’t help but feel that as the higher education industry in general kind of looks worse in the public eye – and also with all these hungry lawyers out there looking for work – that they are going to become an attractive, deep-pocketed (defendant).”
“Administrators who are used to ignoring the law, basically, and doing what they wanted without consequences are going to find quite a surprise,” Reynolds added.
Jennifer Kabbany is editor of The College Fix (Follow Jenn on Twitter: @JenniferKabbany )
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