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Pushback: Student’s lawsuit against college officials for suppressing her First Amendment rights moves forward

Maggie DeJong
Maggie DeJong, willing fight back hard.

Bring a gun to a knife fight: Though she had quickly forced her school to back down from trying to blacklist her, as described in a previous blacklist story in 2022, Maggie DeJong has now won a major court decision with a ruling on March 20, 2023 by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Illinois that her lawsuit against three administrators at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) can go forward.

More important, the ruling stated [pdf] that these three administrators — Jamie Ball (director for Equal Opportunity, Access and Title IX Coordination), Randall Penbrook (school chancellor), and Megan Robb (her teacher) — do not qualify in almost all circumstances for qualified immunity. They are liable for their actions in violating DeJong’s constitutional rights, including her right to free speech.

This is what happened in 2022: These officials issued three “no contact” orders against DeJong, forbidding her to have any contact with three co-students in her program, simply because she had religious and political opinions they disagreed with and did not wish to hear. This orders essentially blacklisted her from the program, because of its small nature, and were literally a priori gag orders on her right to freely express her opinions. The officials also admitted that DeJong had violated no school policy, nor did they provide her any due process before issuing the orders. When challenged by DeJong’s lawyers, the university quickly realized the utter illegality of these orders, and cancelled them.

You can read DeJong’s lawsuit complaint here [pdf]. Its most important aspect is that it is not suing Southern Illinois University but the actual individuals who committed the oppressive acts. In recent years the idea of qualified immunity has become so expanded from its original concept — to protect government officials from civil damages outside their control — that government and academic officials almost never suffer personal harm or liability for their bad actions, even when they lose their court cases. Instead the government or the public university pays the fine or judgment, which means it is really the taxpayer who pays.

As a consequence government and college officials in recent years have been given the complete freedom to act with impunity, because they face no personal liability for their actions. My long list of blacklist stories includes hundreds of examples where the rights of ordinary citizens were violated and their lives destroyed, and the bad actors in government walk away without any punishment. In many cases their status actually rises, with promotions and pay increases.

This lawsuit, filed by DeJong’s legal firm, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), directly challenges this modern paradigm. As noted by DeJong in a video created by ADF,

Our right to freedom of speech doesn’t hinge of whether those in power approve of what we have to say. Officials at schools like SIUE have to rediscover that simple truth and apply it equally to each and every student, including those with whom they disagree.

ADF and DeJong are going after these officials directly, demanding “compensatory, nominal, and punitive damages” as well as all attoney’s fees and costs.” Should they win, it will send a strong signal nationwide that government and public university officials had better think twice about violating the Constitutional rights of either citizens or students. A precedent will have been set making them personally liable financially for their own misbehavior.

Such a victory would be Earth-shattering, and would likely quickly force major changes in the leftist policies that governments and academia have been trying to force on everyone. They will certainly still try to do so, but they will now know that they had better tiptoe gently before they move to gag or punish anyone who defies them.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • The consequential side of the ‘consequence-free life’ Progressives are about. Or, how ‘the personal is political’, comes back around to ‘the political is personal’.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Maggie looks like she’s one tough cookie! Go, Maggie!

  • An Observation

    If you read the law allowing lawsuits against people who deprive persons of their Constitutional rights (42 USC 1983) the ONLY people who actually have qualified immunity, are judges, and the law describes how even they can lose it. Only very bad case law has extended that concept to cover other government officials. That bad case law can vanish as quickly as the Supreme Court notes that it is a judicial invention that has no basis in actual law; it is simply a case of judges inventing law out of thin air.

  • Milt

    Yes, a significant individual victory, but there is another aspect of this sad state of affairs that remains of concern. Unhappily, we now live in a country / culture / society where a significant portion of the population — including, we assume, Ms. DeJong’s three classmates — no longer believes in the concept of freedom of speech and, instead, wishes to be “protected” from it.

    This belief — again, that it is the government’s obligation to *protect* people from free speech — seems on its way to becoming normative in most university environments, and is just another example of the radical inversion of our formerly prevailing cultural norms that is transforming our country into something that is almost unrecognizable. And, while Ms. DeJong appears to have been vindicated, there would seem to be little hope that the faculty and staff of Southern Illinois University will rethink its position on this issue. At best, they will no longer act against individual dissent in such an open and overtly illegal fashion — it’s now too expensive — but they will go on *teaching* that the tenets of the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights are contrary to the new woke conception of a people’s democracy and how a society ought to be ordered.

    As others have observed, it is one thing to have a Constitution and Bill of Rights in place, but if a significant portion of the population no longer adheres to the historical and cultural foundations in which these institutions are rooted, then you have created a very different kind of society*. That this is so, and our fundamental institutions are rooted in language, culture, and history, is the thesis of Akhil Reed Amar’s America’s Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By. Similarly, the conservatism of Edmund Burke is grounded in the history of the British Isles and English Common Law, and our collective adherence to such norms would not exist without such a provenance.

    *Which was, BTW, precisely the intent of the French Revolution, which now serves as the inspiration and model for our new Jacobins
    in Washington.

    At the moment, fortunately, the judiciary seems to be holding the line in favor of an originalist interpretation of our Constitution, but there is a rising tide of opposition to their efforts among much of the younger population and, in particular, most of those who live in Blue cities and states. These people do not *want* to live under the old “oppressive” rules, and they have turned to Marx, Stalin, and Joe Biden / Jim Jones as their prophets.

    Winning in a one to one, individual fashion is of course very desirable and it is part of the foundation of how our system works, but there is also a *cultural* war to be won, even if far too many people (included elected Republicans) don’t realize that they are in the middle of it.

  • BLSinSC

    Every movement has a beginning! Look at Florida and New College! Now this young lady and her Legal Team have an opportunity to launch a decision on PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY that might just begin the avalanche of suits against MANY leftists in education and Governments! I know you’ll keep us all informed on the progress! Thanks so much for this site!

  • Mil

    As a followup to my earlier comments, please see this piece by Josh Hammer:

    Citing Tucker Carlson’s recent address to the Heritage Foundation — — Mr. Hammer observes:

    “The relevant political and cultural battle lines in the year 2023 are not those befitting a civil and polite discussion where both sides are reasonable, both sides pursue their own version of the common good and the best think tank white paper wins out in the end, Carlson cautioned. No, our current civilizational struggle is not reflective of a refined policy debate between amicable partisans; rather, it is one that implicates fundamentally distinct theological and anthropological visions of mankind — of man’s very biology and his relation with his fellow man, the state and God Himself.”

    As he goes on to suggest, the social and cultural fault lines in today’s America are probably deeper than those at the time of the Civil War where both sides still believed in many of the same things. Now, voters in Red and Blue states seem to have little if anything in common, and they hold very different ideas about even such things as whether men can become women (simply by wishing to) or if they live in a “good” country with a Constitution and a system of laws to which they ought to adhere.

    The question before us is which vision of the “common good” most Americans now adhere to (and will fight for), and the tragic thing is that The Powers That Be on *both* sides of the partisan divide seem bound and determined that the kind of civilizational debate that Tucker Carlson and Mr. Hammer is talking about will never be allowed to take place.

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