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Young Americans for Liberty at Montclair State University v. The Trustees of Montclair State University

Description:  Montclair State University officials forced students with the campus chapter of Young Americans for Liberty to stop peaceful, expressive activity because they didn’t have a permit. The chapter’s ensuing lawsuit also challenges the university’s Bias Education Response Taskforce and an unconstitutional class system that grants preferential treatment to student organizations based on their viewpoints.

Montclair State University
Wednesday, Aug 4, 2021

NEWARK, N.J. – Montclair State University has agreed to abolish its Bias Education Response Taskforce and change unconstitutional policies that university officials used to force students to stop peaceful, expressive activity without a permit and discriminate against student groups.

As part of a settlement ending a federal lawsuit Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed on behalf of the campus chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, the university has agreed to allow free expression in all common outdoor areas of campus, remove its unconstitutional hierarchical class system for student organizations, and abolish the taskforce, whose express purpose was to silence unpopular speech on campus.

“Universities cannot arbitrarily pick and choose which students can speak freely on campus,” said ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross. “Montclair State University’s previous policy placed burdensome restraints on speech and allowed university officials to selectively enforce those restraints against groups they didn’t like. Thankfully, the university has agreed to revise these unconstitutional policies to ensure that all students are treated fairly, regardless of viewpoint.”

On Sept. 10, 2019, Mena Botros and two fellow students dressed in orange jumpsuits and held up signs voicing their support—as pretend criminals—for gun-free zones. The purpose was to express their belief that laws creating gun-free zones only benefit criminals and harm law-abiding citizens. Despite peacefully expressing their ideas in a common outdoor area of campus, a campus police officer forced them to stop. He told the students that anyone who wants to speak on campus has to obtain permission at least two weeks in advance, and that the dean’s office would assign them a time and place to speak.

Under the settlement agreement, Montclair State University eliminated the two-week prior permission requirement and agreed to overhaul its student government’s current class system, allowing all student groups equal opportunity to be officially recognized by the university and receive funding from the student fees imposed on each student. The university also disbanded its Bias Education Response Taskforce and agreed to pay the YAL chapter’s attorneys’ fees and damages in the amount of $42,000.

“Today’s university students will be tomorrow’s voters and civic leaders,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “That’s why it’s so important that universities promote the First Amendment values that they are supposed to be teaching students. Montclair State University has shown it wants to do that by taking corrective action in revising its policies to protect free speech.”

“Campus administrators and members of an unconstitutional Bias Education Response Taskforce are not allowed to dictate what can and can’t be said on a taxpayer-funded public university campus,” said YAL Director of Free Speech JP Kirby. “I’m proud of the YAL members at Montclair State for standing up for their constitutional rights and for this win, which allows all people the freedom to express their beliefs and be heard on campus.”

In light of the settlement reached in Young Americans for Liberty at Montclair State University v. The Trustees of Montclair State University , ADF attorneys intend to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit on behalf of their clients.

Michael Laffey, one of nearly 3,500 attorneys allied with ADF, served as local counsel for the Young Americans for Liberty chapter.

  • Pronunciation guide: 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 Michael Ross

Michael Ross serves as legal counsel for the Corporate Engagement Team with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he assists in developing and implementing successful legal solutions and corporate engagement strategies to neutralize mounting corporate hostility to people of faith and to encourage corporations to respect free speech, religious freedom, and life. Ross previously served on the Center for Academic Freedom Team, defending the First Amendment freedoms of college students and student organizations on university campuses. Ross earned his Juris Doctor in 2016 from Vanderbilt Law School, where he served as president of the Christian Legal Society and executive authorities editor for the Vanderbilt Transnational Law Journal. He obtained B.A. degrees in mathematics and religious studies from Vanderbilt University in 2010. Ross is a member of the bar in Tennessee.

ABOUT Tyson Langhofer

Tyson Langhofer serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and director of its Center for Academic Freedom. Before joining ADF, Langhofer was a partner with Stinson Leonard Street LLP, where he worked as a commercial litigation attorney for 15 years and earned Martindale-Hubbell’s AV Preeminent® rating. Langhofer earned his Juris Doctor from Regent University School of Law, where he graduated cum laude in 1999. He obtained a B.A. in international business with a minor in economics from Wichita State University in 1996. A member of the bar in Virginia, Kansas, and Arizona, Langhofer is also admitted to practice in numerous federal district courts.