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DeJong v. Pembrook

Description:  While a graduate student in Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Art Therapy program, Maggie DeJong, like many other students, posted materials to her social media accounts, sent messages to fellow students, and engaged in class discussions on an array of topics. But because DeJong’s views often differed from those of other students in the program, views informed by her Christian faith and political stance, several of her fellow students reported her speech to university officials. The officials then issued no-contact orders against DeJong, prohibiting her from having “any contact” or even “indirect communication” with three fellow graduate students who complained that her expression of religious and political viewpoints constituted “harassment” and “discrimination.” DeJong is suing the university for violating her civil and constitutional rights because of her viewpoint.
 


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a graduate student filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against officials at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for violating her civil and constitutional rights because she holds views that differ from many of her fellow students.

While a graduate student in SIUE’s Art Therapy program, Maggie DeJong, like many other students, posted materials to her social media accounts, sent messages to fellow students, and engaged in class discussions on an array of topics, including religion, politics, critical race theory, COVID-19 regulations, and censorship. But because DeJong’s views often differed from those of other students in the Art Therapy program, views informed by her Christian faith and political stance, several of her fellow students reported her speech to university officials. In February, those officials issued no-contact orders against DeJong, prohibiting her from having “any contact” or even “indirect communication” with three fellow graduate students who complained that her expression of religious and political viewpoints constituted “harassment” and “discrimination.”

“Rather than accept and embrace diverse ideological perspectives, SIUE officials are determined to force their graduate students to think and speak exactly the same—or stay silent—and they will punish anyone who steps out of line,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gregg Walters. “Maggie has always respectfully shared her religious or political views, which every student is entitled to do under the First Amendment. It is a sad day for civil dialogue and freedom of speech when universities can issue gag orders like those issued against Maggie for nothing more than expressing her beliefs—beliefs held by millions of Americans.”

The university issued the no-contact orders without giving DeJong the chance to defend herself, without telling her of the allegations against her, and without identifying any policy or rule that DeJong violated. Additionally, the university threatened “disciplinary consequences” if DeJong violated the no-contact orders. The director of the Art Therapy program also sent an e-mail to more than 30 students in the program publicly confirming that DeJong was under investigation and accusing her of “misconduct” and “oppressive acts”—a disclosure that violated a university policy requiring officials to “take all reasonable steps to ensure confidentiality” during an investigation of a student for alleged misconduct.

On March 10, two weeks after receiving a letter from ADF attorneys informing the university that its stifling of DeJong’s speech based on her viewpoint is unconstitutional, officials finally disclosed to DeJong the materials underlying the no-contact orders and related investigation. That same day, the university closed its baseless investigation of DeJong, but not before violating her civil and First Amendment rights and tarnishing her reputation because of her beliefs.

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, DeJong v. Pembrook, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

  • Pronunciation guide: DeJong (DEE’-yung); Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.

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ABOUT Gregg Walters

Gregg Walters serves as senior counsel for the Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he defends the First Amendment freedoms of college students and student organizations on university campuses. Before joining ADF in 2020, Walters served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois. During his 18 years with the Department of Justice, Walters prosecuted a wide variety of federal criminal cases, including child exploitation, fraud, and violent crime matters. In his last five years as a federal prosecutor, he served as appellate chief, personally briefing and arguing over 60 appeals in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Before his time with the DOJ, Walters clerked for the Honorable Michael M. Mihm, a federal district judge, and was in private practice. A former officer in the U.S. Army, Walters graduated from the United States Military Academy with a B.S. in systems engineering. After his military service, he earned his J.D. summa cum laude from the Southern Illinois University School of Law. Walters is a member of the state bars of Arizona and Illinois and is admitted to practice in multiple federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.