How five YAF chapters have defended student rights on campus

By Sarah Kramer Posted on: | July 28, 2017

Across the nation, campus administrators regularly adopt policies designed to restrict student speech. These policies relegate free speech to a tiny area of campus, deny recognition to certain student groups, and allow protestors to shut down speakers with whom they disagree.

Worse still, these policies communicate to a generation of students that the full exercise of First Amendment rights is too dangerous to permit.  But for the students who are willing to stand against these unconstitutional policies on their campus, challenging these policies can have far-reaching impact.

That’s exactly what these five Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapters did on their campuses, defending student rights on campus and helping to teach their fellow students that freedom should be embraced, not feared.

Young Americans for Freedom at Palm Beach State College (2010)

Palm Beach State College (PBSC) agreed to revise its speech policies after Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys filed a lawsuit. School officials had denied YAF members permission to participate in a student fair for student groups, had barred YAF members from handing out literature anywhere on campus, and required the group to get the dean’s permission two weeks in advance for any activity off campus, among other restrictions.

Stony Brook Young Americans for Freedom (2011)

The YAF group at Stony Brook University on Long Island was denied equal access to student organization funding because it was deemed to be “too similar” to the College Republicans (even though the school funded left-leaning student groups with seemingly “similar” purposes). In response to an ADF letter, Stony Brook reversed course and approved funding for YAF, enacting a new policy that eliminated the “similarity” requirement.

Young Americans for Freedom at California State University, Los Angeles (2016)

When CSULA Young Americans for Freedom invited conservative commentator Ben Shapiro to speak on campus, university officials tried to stop the event by first charging more than $600 in security fees under the guise that Shapiro was “controversial,” then cancelling the event altogether. When YAF decided to move forward with the event, and the university relented, faculty members encouraged a mob to flood the university’s Student Union and physically block access to the speech. The university president ordered campus police not to interfere.

ADF filed suit against the university on YAF’s behalf, and the university agreed that it would not discriminate based on viewpoint moving forward.

Iowa State University Young Americans for Freedom (2016)

When Robert Dunn, president and founder of ISU Young Americans for Freedom, reviewed the school’s mandatory training on its speech policies, he knew he could not sign the school-required pledge of compliance. Under the troubling policies, speech – even speech protected by the First Amendment – could be deemed punishable “harassment” merely if it “annoy[ed]” another student. But Dunn faced a hold on his graduation if he didn’t agree to the speech codes. Dunn contacted ADF, and we filed a lawsuit against ISU on his behalf. Earlier this year, the school agreed to revise its policies to respect First Amendment rights.

University of Southern Maine Young Americans for Freedom (2017)

At the University of Southern Maine (USM), university administrators slapped a YAF group with a $450 security fee when it tried to host a state representative to discuss contemporary national and local policies regarding immigration enforcement. In deeming the event “controversial,” the school allowed the possibility of hecklers protesting the event to veto conservative speech on campus. After receiving a letter from ADF, USM agreed to let the event proceed without charging the student group fees based on the content of the speech.

In a time when the First Amendment is under attack, YAF is a tireless defender of freedom. Without courageous student groups such as YAF to stand up for constitutional principles on campus, university officials could continue to promote certain viewpoints over others. And a generation of students would learn that their rights are not inalienable, but are instead the gift of the college administration. But that’s not how the Constitution works.

By helping to challenge unconstitutional policies on college campuses, YAF is ensuring that university officials uphold the Constitution. And seeing constitutional principles at work on their college campuses will give students a better idea of what it looks like to engage in society productively with tolerance for a variety of viewpoints.