UC Berkeley settles lawsuit filed by libertarian student group Young Americans for Liberty

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Michael Drummond/File

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UC Berkeley settled an alleged discrimination lawsuit that was filed by the campus chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, or YAL, by adjusting the campus’s application process for Registered Student Organizations, or RSOs.

YAL, a campus libertarian student group, claimed in the lawsuit that UC Berkeley denied the group’s RSO application because it was “too similar” to other groups on campus, thereby violating its constitutional rights. The settlement included $8,250 for legal fees and other losses as well as a requirement that UC Berkeley post clear statements of policy and the campus RSO guidelines on its website.

According to Khader Kakish, president of the UC Berkeley chapter of YAL, UC Berkeley told YAL in an email to work with Cal Libertarians because of the similarity between the two groups. Kakish added that YAL was also asked to provide proof that it had made an attempt to work with Cal Libertarians and submit a “statement of uniqueness” if it wanted to continue the application process.

“There are about 12 other organizations that are not identical but very similar,” said YAL Director of Free Speech Alexander Staudt. “This was clearly and blatantly discrimination.”

YAL has more than 900 chapters across the country at public and private universities, where the group promotes personal and civil liberties as well as the importance of free-market economics, Kakish said. Alliance Defending Freedom, a network of attorneys that advocates for free speech for faith communities, took on the UC Berkeley YAL chapter’s lawsuit initially on a pro bono basis, according to Kakish.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that the campus’s policy is to encourage new student organizations to consult with existing organizations that are similar and that ideology and political viewpoint are not considered. Gilmore added that campus policies were not actually changed as a result of the settlement.

“What we have agreed to do under the settlement is to make that policy more clear when we are applying it, including instances where staff who work with these students are explaining new student group registration processes,” Gilmore said in an email.

According to the terms of the settlement, UC Berkeley cannot require applicants to “confer or collaborate” with similar organizations. It also states that organizations cannot be denied registered status based on similarity, political views or mission statement, but only based on whether they meet the criteria in the application process.

Gilmore said in an email that the campus is satisfied with the settlement and that the money paid to the plaintiff recognized that YAL members did receive an email that was unclear about the application process and existing policy. Gilmore also stated that once YAL expressed its dissatisfaction to the campus, its RSO status was granted.

According to Kakish, the group’s RSO status was not granted until after the lawsuit was filed.

“The statement that we are trying to make is that whether UC Berkeley has a bias or not, if there is a bias, there should be no way for it to materialize,” Kakish said.

Contact Ryan Geller at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @rashadgeller.