Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by a former graduate student after the school placed a ‘no contact’ order on her that prohibited communication with classmates who opposed her conservative views. .
Maggie R. DeJong was an art therapy graduate student when, according to a lawsuit she filed last year, SIUE used the ‘no contact’ order to silence her speech and effectively ban her from classes.
The lawsuit alleged that the publicly funded school’s director of art therapy, Megan A. Robb, encouraged three of DeJong’s classmates to report their Christian and conservative views to administrators as “harmful,” resulting in in the ban.
As part of a settlement reached Wednesday, SIUE agreed to pay $80,000 and require three teachers to attend a First Amendment training session, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group, which represented DeJong.
“Public universities cannot punish students for expressing their political and religious views,” ADF legal counsel Mathew Hoffmann said in a statement.
Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by former graduate student Maggie R. DeJong (above) and will pay $80,000
The lawsuit alleged that the publicly funded school’s director of art therapy, Megan A. Robb, encouraged three of DeJong’s classmates to report their Christian and conservative views to administrators as “harmful,” which resulted in the ban.
“Maggie, like any other student, is protected by the First Amendment to respectfully share her personal beliefs, and university officials erred by issuing gag orders and silencing her speech,” the lawyer added.
In a statement, SIUE Chancellor James T. Minor acknowledged the deal without confirming financial details and insisted the school upheld an “unwavering defense of free speech.”
“I am confident that most people who care about these issues will look beyond the clickbait sensationalism, media reports and headlines for a fuller understanding of the facts,” Minor said.
“SIUE is unequivocally committed to protecting First Amendment rights and has no policies that restrict free speech or support censorship,” the chancellor added.
DeJong’s allegations were outlined in a 51-page federal lawsuit filed in May 2022, which in addition to Robb named SIUE administrator Jamie Ball and the school’s former chancellor Randall G. Pembrook as defendants.
According to the lawsuit, under the “anti-oppressive framework” of the SIUE Art Therapy program, DeJong’s speech in the classroom and on social media was often seen as “harmful” by classmates.
Three classmates in particular took issue with DeJong’s views on religion, race, public safety and other controversial social issues, according to the lawsuit, which identified the other students only by their initials.
Here are some of the social media posts Maggie’s classmates complained about, with one saying that seeing them had caused “emotional damage.”
Classmates complained about DeJong’s social media posts, including those expressing support for Kyle Rittenhouse (left) and opposing abortion (right)
On one occasion, a classmate privately messaged DeJong on Instagram after she uploaded a post about her religion.
The original post read: “Don’t be fooled by (n)new age practices.”
The classmate sent her a private message, accusing her of “saying that a person’s belief system is wrong.”
She replied: ‘You ask a very good question (SW):) In a relativistic society, that can be seen that way. But my personal beliefs are based on the objective truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
‘My belief compels me to denounce the evil that keeps people in spiritual captivity. You can totally disagree with me, and that’s your right 🙂 But it’s out of love that I say this’.
DeJong then says that his words were used in that student’s art project which was titled ‘The Crushing Weight of Microaggressions’.
In February 2021, she came to class wearing a pro-police hat, ‘Back the Blue,’ and says Robb, the teacher, pointed to the hat and asked her to explain, according to the lawsuit.
DeJong said he wore the hat to show his support for law enforcement and explained his belief that defunding the police would harm society, refusing to remove it even when his peers argued that it was a symbol of oppression.
The lawsuit claims that months later, Robb brought up the pro-police hat issue in a classroom discussion, prompting classmates to renew their criticism of DeJong.
Classmates called the hat “unsafe,” likening DeJong wearing it to someone eating peanut butter near a person who is allergic to peanuts, according to the lawsuit.
We all have to censor ourselves because we have to keep the peace. We have to do what’s best for the general public,” a classmate reportedly explained to DeJong.
DeJong was an art therapy graduate student when, according to a lawsuit she filed last year, SIUE used the “no contact” order to muzzle her speech and effectively ban her from classes.
According to the lawsuit, DeJong began self-censoring and limiting his movements for fear of inadvertently violating the contact ban. She graduated from the program last year.
Another professor also told him that his comments on social media were “troublesome,” according to the lawsuit.
Among the posts Dejong shared was one that denounced the January 6 insurrection but said the BLM riots “ruined the country.”
Another was about the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict, which she saw as the prevailing justice.
Rittenhouse was acquitted of murder after shooting three BLM protesters in Kenosha, killing two of them.
His legal team successfully convinced a jury that he feared for his life when he opened fire on protesters, one of whom was also holding a gun.
Dejong wrote on Instagram after the verdict: “Justice and truth prevailed against the lies and deceit of the mainstream media trying to twist the narrative.”
‘This gives Americans hope. Praying for the protection of the jurors whose lives have been threatened.
The lawsuit alleged that Robb, the director of DeJong’s graduate program, “directed and encouraged Ms. DeJong’s art therapy colleagues to report Ms. DeJong’s allegedly ‘harmful’ and fully protected speech to officials at University”.
The Edwardsville campus of Southern Illinois University is seen above
In February 2022, the school issued “no contact orders” telling him that he could not communicate with three students who had complained about his views.
According to the lawsuit, DeJong began censoring himself and limiting his movements for fear of inadvertently violating the ban. She graduated from the program in the spring of 2022.
As part of the settlement agreement, university officials agreed to review their policies to ensure students have substantive and procedural protections from no-contact orders so that no other students have to put up with the unlawful treatment DeJong experienced, according to ADF.
“As a result of Maggie’s courage in filing the lawsuit, SIUE has agreed to take critical steps to comply with the law and the US Constitution and come closer to accepting and embracing true diversity of thought and expression,” Hoffman said.