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.