The new ‘go-to place of all the free speech craziness’ on campus
A Christian legal group that has often sued governments on matters of religious freedom is wading more deeply into the secular field of free speech on campus.
The Alliance Defending Freedom launched a new website Monday dedicated to legal assistance for students whose speech is chilled or squelched – even when it has nothing to do with faith – by their public universities.
The group’s Center for Academic Freedom is not new, but its work is now being promoted apart from the main alliance website, and it bears no indication that the organization is religious. In contrast, an archived page from 2007 shows the center specifically targeting Christian students, back when the alliance was known as the Alliance Defense Fund.
Casey Mattox, director of the center, and Rebecca Sears, the alliance’s media and marketing strategist, hosted a five-minute Facebook Live event Monday to showcase the features and resources on the new site.
Sears called the site an “interactive tool” and “go-to place of all the free speech craziness going on right now” on campuses around the country.
Countering its reputation for defending primarily Christian speech and actions, Mattox said the alliance has been involved in more cases regarding student free speech battles than anyone else in the past decade.
The website includes a map with all the schools where the alliance assisted in a free-speech case. The center claims it has achieved 385 “victories” on campus speech, with a “100% success rate against anti-free speech zones” and 86 percent “win rate” in direct litigation.
Most of the cases it cites as recent efforts are either religious in nature or involve subjects at the core of conservative Christian beliefs, particularly pro-life activism. But the center has also defended secular conservative, libertarian and even pro-marijuana student groups on several occasions.
In a phone interview with The College Fix, Mattox distinguished the center’s work from that of another group that is better known for free-speech legal matters on campus, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
His group directly litigates, which FIRE is not equipped for, but Mattox said the two organizations do work closely together, including now on a case at Bunker Hill Community College in Massachusetts.
The new center website also includes articles on current cases as well as a blog that highlights different efforts and points of interest for defending freedom of speech. “[It] focuses on where we have been engaged” – how to apply policies in constitutional ways, Mattox told The Fix.
In a press release announcing the new “online resource,” the alliance touted the site’s search tool that “helps students and other attorneys find out about prior free speech incidents on campuses nationwide.” It also provides details on more than 300 “victories in and out of court” and serves as a one-stop shop for media outlets looking for “pleadings, pictures, videos” and other information about current free-speech litigation.
Alliance cases include an incident where students from a Young Americans for Liberty chapter were ordered to stop handing out copies of the Constitution and jailed when they refused. It filed a lawsuit on behalf of the students in January, which is pending.
It’s also currently in litigation regarding a May incident at Fresno State University, where a professor erased chalk messages by its Students for Life chapter, claiming that “college campuses are not free speech areas.” Oddly, the alliance page on this case has more information than the center’s page.