A Christian student who sued Southern Illinois University, claiming the institution had repressed her conservative political views, will get an award of $80,000.
Maggie DeJong, who graduated from Southern Illinois University’s art therapy counseling program last year, claimed that the university punished her for speaking out about her conservative views when other students protested.
This week, the lawsuit against the institution was resolved for the sum of $80,000, according to DeJong’s legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.
“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,” said attorney Mathew Hoffmann of Alliance Defending Freedom in a press release Wednesday.
“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 said.
Three professors will be required to complete First Amendment training as part of the settlement.
Southern Illinois University must also update its student handbook and rules by the settlement agreement to “ensure students with varying political, religious, and ideological views are welcome in the art therapy program.”
In her case, DeJong claimed that after other students complained about her conservative views, which they described as “harmful” and “harassment,” the school initiated an inquiry and issued three “no contact” orders against her.
DeJong was forbidden under the “no contact” orders from having “any contact” or even “indirect communication” with the three other graduate students who had raised concerns.
“Maggie wasn’t given a chance to defend herself. 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,” her legal team wrote in an explanation of the case on Alliance Defending Freedom’s website last year.
DeJong claimed that in the past, she frequently stood up and provided her conservative viewpoint during class debates on contentious issues including racial tensions, religion, COVID, and censorship.
On her Instagram page, DeJong also shared her conservative viewpoints, which included her pro-life stance, support for Kyle Rittenhouse, and skepticism of Critical Race Theory.
“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, including murder, arising from his fatally shooting two men in 2020 during riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“This gives hope to Americans. Praying protection over those jurors who have been threatened their lives,” DeJong wrote.
Southern Illinois University Chancellor James Minor acknowledged the settlement in a statement.
He added, however, that he hoped people would “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 in a statement.