[Fox News] Illinois college ordered to pay Christian student $80k for silencing conservative views

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An Illinois college has settled with a conservative, Christian art student who claimed the school censored her speech and discriminated against her after complaints from classmates.

As part of the settlement won by Alliance Defending Freedom, three professors at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) will take mandatory training related to free speech on college campuses.

The settlement also stipulates that SIUE officials must revise their student handbook and policies to “ensure students with varying political, religious and ideological views are welcome in the art therapy program.”

Officials also must pay $80,000 to dismiss the lawsuit successfully.

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The court victory came just over a year after student Maggie Dejon received three “no-contact orders” from the school that prevented her from having direct or indirect communication with three students, who claimed her political viewpoints constituted “harassment” and “discrimination.”

Dejong previously told “Fox & Friends First” that she routinely participated in class discussions on contentious topics such as race relations, religion, COVID-19 and censorship, typically offering a conservative perspective.

As her three-year graduate program drew to a close, Dejong received the no-contact order after her classmates had objected to social media posts she had made on abortion and defund the police.

ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhoffer said Dejong upset classmates by defending Kyle Rittenhouse and denouncing critical race theory, eventually leading to the university-imposed orders that prohibited her from fully participating in class discussions.

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The university also asked her peers to report her for “harmful rhetoric” and issued the orders without first allowing Dejong to defend her position, according to ADF.

University officials have since agreed to revise their policies to ensure students have “substantive and procedural protections” from no-contact orders.

Speaking with Fox News Digital, SIUE directed the news outlet to a statement from Chancellor James T. Minor, who urged people to “see beyond the sensationalism of clickbait, media reports and headlines in search of a more complete understanding of the facts.”

In the statement, he affirmed that SIUE is “unequivocally committed to protecting First Amendment rights and does not have policies that restrict free speech nor support censorship.”

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“For decades, universities have embraced the challenge of vigorously protecting free speech while at the same time creating a safe learning environment for the expression of diverse views. Protecting these two principles can create tensions. For example, while the First Amendment protects free speech (no matter how offensive), it does not protect behavior on a campus that creates a pervasively hostile environment for other students. We accept that balancing these two deeply valued principles of free speech and a safe environment, in real-time, represent inherent complications for administering prudence,” he added.

Minor also said this “delicate balance” invites debate about where such a “line should be drawn” in each unique case that in today’s world also typically involves social media.

In a Thursday press release, ADF Legal Counsel Mathew Hoffmann said that “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.

Hoffman, in a statement to Fox News Digital, said: “Universities cannot censor students because of their religious or political views. But the University did just that by issuing unconstitutional no-contact orders against Maggie. This settlement helps ensure that what happened to Maggie will not happen to any other student. We are hopeful that this free speech victory opens universities to what they should be—marketplaces of ideas, not echo chambers for one ideology.”

Contentious lawsuits involving Christian students and university officials have cropped up numerous times in the last several years. 

In April, America First Legal announced it ha filed a lawsuit against County College of Morris (CCM) and its Dean of Students after a student was allegedly suspended for “hate speech” by citing religious scripture. 

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