Victory: Southern Illinois University to Pay for Silencing Conservative Views

Maggie DeJong/Image: Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced an $80,000 settlement with Southern Illinois University after grad student Maggie DeJong filed a lawsuit, DeJong v Pembrook, alleging the institution punished her for her outspoken conservative views.

The efforts to silence her included “no-contact orders” against her and encouraging her peers at the university to report her for “harmful rhetoric.”

According to a press release from ADF:

While a graduate student in SIUE’s Art Therapy program, DeJong, like many other students, posted materials to her social media accounts, sent messages to fellow students, and engaged in class discussions on an array of topics, including religion, politics, critical race theory, COVID-19 regulations, and censorship. But because DeJong’s views—informed by her Christian faith and political stance—often differed from those of other students in the art therapy program, several of her fellow students reported her speech to university officials. In February 2022, those officials issued no-contact orders against DeJong, prohibiting her from having “any contact” or even “indirect communication” with three fellow graduate students who complained that her expression of religious and political viewpoints constituted “harassment” and “discrimination.”

Two weeks after receiving a letter from ADF informing the university that stifling DeJong’s speech based on her viewpoint is unconstitutional, officials finally disclosed the materials underlying the no-contact orders and related investigation. That same day, the university closed its baseless investigation of DeJong, but not before violating her First Amendment rights and tarnishing her reputation because of her beliefs. As part of the settlement agreement, university officials agreed to revise their policies to ensure students have substantive and procedural protections from no-contact orders so no other student will have to endure the unlawful treatment DeJong experienced.

ADF attorney Mathew Hoffmann said of the win, “Public universities can’t punish students for expressing their political and religious viewpoints. Maggie, like every other student, is protected under the First Amendment to respectfully share her personal beliefs, and university officials were wrong to issue gag orders and silence her speech.”

ADF attorneys will also conduct a First Amendment training session with three professors at SIU as part of the settlement.

DeJong joined Fox News to discuss the victory.

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