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A creatively oppressive way to silence students

Some universities turn to no-contact orders as weapons to banish religious and conservative viewpoints

The campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Associated Press/Photo by Whitney Curtis

A creatively oppressive way to silence students
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Some public colleges and universities have found a creative new way to silence students.

At a time when speech is often labeled as “violence,” administrators are issuing no-contact orders as an excuse to censor students with whom they disagree. That’s right: Government officials employed at public universities have issued restraining orders based on students’ exercise of their First Amendment rights. On at least two university campuses, officials have used policies to censor and punish students because of their religious and political views. Those very policies were devised to protect students who allege genuine harassment or assault. The use of these policies to shut down student speech should concern us all.

Maggie DeJong’s story, for example, should alarm every parent. Maggie is an effervescent young woman and a recent graduate of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Art Therapy Counseling master’s degree program. Art therapy is primarily intended to help individuals explore their emotions, address unresolved conflicts, and cultivate emotional resilience. Those unfamiliar with this major may not fully understand its significance. Maggie studied art therapy with the goal of being able to counsel child trauma victims. This program at SIUE is an intimate and exclusive program that welcomes only ten new students each year.

Maggie, a Christian and a conservative, thought her school welcomed Socratic dialogue and diversity of thought, so she was alarmed when the university issued no-contact orders against her, forbidding communication with three fellow students. She only learned why when she asked the school to rescind the orders.

A month after the university issued the orders, officials disclosed that one of the complaining students had given copies of Maggie’s social media posts to them, claiming that her posts and related messages violated the school’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy. The students who collected the posts started doing so more than a year before the orders were issued.

The subject of those posts and messages? Condemning both the Jan. 6 Capitol invasion and the Black Lives Matter riots; questioning government regulations, orders, and mandates relating to COVID-19, comparing critical race theory to Marxism, and condemning government censorship. Every bit of what she said was protected speech, just as it would be for any American, on or off a university campus.

Maggie never violated any university policy. But in a program where self-proclaimed witches brought Wiccan materials to class, students used tarot cards, and professors routinely opined in support of BLM and other far-left causes on social media, Maggie faced censorship by her school at the behest of other students.

Every bit of what she said was protected speech, just as it would be for any American, on or off a university campus.

But Maggie’s attempts to offer a contrasting perspective with respect—in class discussion, on her social media accounts, or even in private text messages—were repeatedly met with extreme hostility.

Maggie’s fellow students even used words from her personal Christian testimony in an art piece titled, “The Crushing Weight of Microaggressions.” Students libeled her in the school’s newspaper, accusing her of using Christianity to “justify racist, homophobic, and xenophobic rhetoric” and openly questioned whether she was fit to receive her license.

When Maggie and I first spoke, she was anxious about her upcoming thesis and distracted by the burden of the discrimination. She struggled to tell her story or even express any emotion. When we finally met at an event, one of the Alliance Defending Freedom team members there gave Maggie an ADF-branded colorful silk scarf that said, “For Truth. For Justice.” What that team member didn’t know was that, to Maggie, the gift was more than an attractive piece of fabric.

Each semester, Maggie’s program held a scarf ceremony. Students begin the program with an all-white scarf, and, at the end of each semester, the students add a color to symbolize their growth as artists and therapists. When the program ends, students can wear their scarves to their dissertation or graduation. What should’ve been a colorful symbol of growth became an ugly reminder to Maggie of the persistent harassment she faced. She didn’t even attend the two last ceremonies. When Maggie received the gift of the new scarf, she viewed it as a symbol of God’s provision for her, and she wore it to defend her thesis a few days later. It was a reminder to her of God’s faithfulness.

Maggie has now graduated and is leaving the harassment behind her. But she filed a lawsuit against her school because others there share some of her beliefs. They’re already intimidated, and she doesn’t want them to face the systemic, unconstitutional harassment she endured.

I know some Christian believers two or three times Maggie’s age who struggle to find the kind of courage, convictions, and sacrifice that Maggie DeJong has already shown. During a season when most people tell graduates to “follow their hearts,” Maggie is doing something far more important and fulfilling. She’s following Christ.

Kristen Waggoner

Kristen Waggoner is CEO, president, and general counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.


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