Art student sues after university orders her to stay away from students offended by her political and religious expressions

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“‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. But our nation’s public universities don’t uphold that principle today. Instead, their message is often the opposite: ‘I not only disapprove of what you say, but I will keep you from saying it.’”

–COMPLAINT, DEJONG V. PEMBROKE

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has filed suit in federal court on behalf of Maggie Dejong, a former Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) graduate student, after the school issued three no-contact orders against her after three students complained about the expression of her religious and political beliefs.


Quick Facts


“There is a famous expression used to describe the free-speech protection guaranteed by the First Amendment: ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’” Dejong’s suit begins. “But our nation’s public universities don’t uphold that principle today. Instead, their message is often the opposite: ‘I not only disapprove of what you say, but I will keep you from saying it.’”

The suit alleges that the SIUE Art Therapy program, in which Dejong was a student, censored her because her beliefs did not align with those of many others in the program. Megan Robb, director of the Art Therapy Program, is alleged to have said that Dejong may share her beliefs as long as they did not harm others. Robb is also said to have encouraged students to report her supposedly harmful behavior.

After several students claimed that they were harmed by Dejong’s speech the school issued three no-contact orders, which barred Dejong from having any contact or even “indirect communication” with the three students. She was not allowed to tell her side nor was she even notified of what she had supposedly done wrong. The orders stated, “This Order is not an indication of responsibility for a violation of University policy; rather, it is intended to prevent interactions that could be perceived by either party as unwelcome, retaliatory, intimidating, or harassing.”

She was warned that failing to comply with the orders would result in disciplinary action, and the SIUE police lieutenant was copied on the orders. Robb is said to have sent an email to more than 30 students confirming that Dejong was under investigation and accusing her of misconduct and “oppressive acts.” This email violated SIUE’s confidentiality policy.

Dejong did not learn what misconduct she was being investigated for until the day the investigation was closed. What she was investigated for was primarily screenshots of social media posts, taken by her classmates over the course of a year. The screenshots included her views on religious and political issues. According to one of the students, the posts caused emotional harm to the students in the program and “worr[ied] [them] as future counselors and mental health advocates.”

One student claimed that because of Dejong’s speech, she wasn’t able to “explore [her] own identity, which is a crucial part of becoming a culturally competent therapist.”

Dejong, like any American, has a right to free speech, particularly in a classroom paid for with state tax dollars and her own tuition. The reason she was targeted, though, wasn’t because she did anything wrong or because she was doing anything other students weren’t doing. It was because her views are not aligned with those of the program or the other students. That is the antithesis of free speech.

Ironically, one of the posts Dejong was investigated for was a quote from pastor John MacArthur, which says, “Those who dare to take an unpopular stand, declare truth in a definitive way — or worst of all, express disagreement with someone else’s teaching — will inevitably be marked as troublesome. Compromise has become virtue while devotion to truth has become offensive.”

That is exactly what happened here. Dejong’s willingness to stand for truth was deemed harmful while embracing a lie was considered loving.

Biblical Application

2 Timothy 4:3-4 says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

Christians live in a world that wants to be right, that wants to be affirmed, that wants to hear approval for individual views and individual actions. If anyone or anything dissents from that stance, the world becomes so angered by being confronted with truth, that it labels those true words or true expression as violence. As 2 Timothy 4:5 says, “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

That means, Christians must keep standing for the truth — whether anyone wants to hear it or not.