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Southern Illinois University Edwardsville will pay a former student $80,000 to settle a lawsuit she filed claiming the school had silenced her for being a politically conservative Christian.
While a graduate student in the school’s art therapy counseling program, Maggie DeJong sued Southern Illinois University Edwardsville last year, saying her school punished her after other students complained about her expressing her conservative political viewpoints openly.
DeJong graduated last year, according to court documents.
Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented DeJong in the suit, said the university settled the matter for $80,000 this week.
“Public universities can’t punish students for expressing their political and religious viewpoints,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Mathew Hoffmann said in a press release. “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.
“As a result of Maggie’s courage in filing suit, SIUE has agreed to take critical steps to comply with the law and the U.S. Constitution and move closer to accepting and embracing true diversity of thought and speech,” Hoffmann added.
Three professors will receive mandatory First Amendment training as a condition of the settlement.
University officials also agreed to revise their policies and student handbook to “ensure students with varying political, religious, and ideological views are welcome in the art therapy program.”
In the complaint, DeJong said the school issued three “no contact” orders against her and launched an investigation after other students complained that her conservative views were “harmful” and “harassment.”
The orders banned DeJong from having “any contact” — even “indirect communication” — with the three art therapy students who complained about her.
“Maggie wasn’t given a chance to defend herself,” her legal team wrote in a case explanation last year. “When they issued the orders, university officials didn’t even tell her what the allegations against her were, and they did not identify a single law, policy, or rule that she had violated. That’s because she hadn’t violated any.”
DeJong said she often previously had contributed her conservative perspective to classroom discussions on controversial topics such as religion, COVID-19, censorship, Marxism, and critical race theory.
She also posted her conservative opinions on her Instagram account, which included her pro-life position and her defense of Kyle Rittenhouse.
“Justice and truth prevailed in the face of lies and deception from the mainstream media trying to twist the narrative,” DeJong wrote in one post after Rittenhouse was acquitted in 2021 of all charges stemming from his fatally shooting two men during riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020.
SIUE Chancellor James Minor acknowledged the settlement in a statement but called on people to “see beyond the sensationalism of clickbait, media reports, and headlines in search of a more complete understanding of the facts.’
“SIUE is unequivocally committed to protecting First Amendment rights and does not have policies that restrict free speech nor support censorship,” Minor said.
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