BERKELEY, Calif. - Free speech tensions are rising at UC Berkeley again with a libertarian group on Monday suing the university amid claims the campus is refusing to recognize its student chapter.
Young Americans for Liberty, a national network of 900 college chapters, filed a federal lawsuit in Oakland claiming Cal is refusing to recognize the free speech group because it’s too similar to another club, Cal Libertarians. The group also claims a lack of recognition is due to its “pro-liberty views.”
Both are accusations the university disputes.
“UC Berkeley categorically rejects the allegation that a decision regarding the status of a student organization was made based on the group’s political perspectives or beliefs,’’ said university spokesman Dan Mogulof. “University of California policies clearly and specifically preclude denying recognition based on political viewpoint. It has never happened in the past, and will never happen in the future.”
Without recognition from the university, Young Americans for Liberty say they can’t reserve space or invite speakers to camps, among other things.
"It is absurd to think that other Berkeley groups are lighting the campus on fire and throwing rocks through windows, but the Young Americans for Liberty’s efforts to peaceably promote the message of liberty are being shunned by university administrators,’’ said group president Cliff Mahoney.
Fights over free speech have been prevalent at UC Berkeley this year.
In February, chaos erupted at Cal in opposition to right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos’ scheduled visit. The campus Republican club said they invited Yiannopoulos to give a voice to “repressed conservative thought” on college campuses.
A vocal supporter of President Donald Trump and a self-proclaimed internet troll, Yiannopoulos has been criticized as racist, misogynist and anti-Muslim.
Protesters set fires, smashed windows and hurled explosives at police and Yiannopoulos, the editor of Breitbart News, canceled his appearance.
Amid the cleanup, a 21-year-old student who supports Trump was attacked on campus while wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap as he headed to class. Two young men jumped from a car and pummeled him.
Police arrived and arrested the alleged assailants, who were not students.
Then in August, black-clad stormed into what had been a largely peaceful “rally against hate” and attacked at least five people, including the leader of a politically conservative group who cancelled an event a day earlier in San Francisco amid fears of violence.
An attorney for Young Americans for Liberty said public universities are supposed to be a ‘marketplace of ideas’ for students.
“But that can’t happen when administrators are allowed to pick and choose which student organizations will be recognized based on the students’ views,” said attorney Caleb Dalton, adding the move is “unconstitutional discrimination.”
Attorneys representing the chapter say the university has historically approved many other student groups that appear to be similar, such as “Cal Berkeley Democrats” and “Students for Hillary at Berkeley,” “Progressive Student Association” and “Socialist Alternative at Berkeley,” and “Queer Alliance & Resource Center” and the “Queer Student Union.”
The university does not dispute this, but rather says it tries to insure there is not more than one group with the exact same focus or charter, given that there are roughly 1000 student organizations on the Berkeley campus.
Mogulof said the group’s initial application was very similar to an existing Libertarian organization.
“However, they are still able to register and be recognized, ‘’ he said.
“All they need to do is confer with the Libertarian organization and decide if they want to combine or remain separate. In short, the process is not yet complete.”
This is not the first time Young Americans for Liberty has sued a university.
In February, 2014, a student won a $50,000 settlement with Modesto Junior College in California’s central valley after he was blocked from distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution in a campus area that was not designated for free speech activities. Under the settlement, the campus also had to revise its free speech codes.
A few months later, two students at the University of Hawaii filed a federal lawsuit after they were prevented from handing out copies of the U.S. constitution on campus. The students were told they violated school policy, which says members of clubs and organizations are not allowed to approach fellow students and solicit them.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.