UC Berkeley denies allegations of 1st Amendment violation

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UC Berkeley denied allegations that it violated the First Amendment rights of Young Americans for Liberty at UC Berkeley, or YAL, after the student organization filed a federal lawsuit against campus officials Monday.

Officials in the Leadership, Engagement, Advising & Development Center, or LEAD Center, allegedly rejected YAL’s request for Registered Student Organization, or RSO, status Sept. 27. A peer leadership consultant for the LEAD center identified by the name “Daisy Doe” said in an email to the student group that the proposed organization was too similar to the already-existing student group Cal Libertarians and therefore “does not meet the qualifications for creating a new organization.”

YAL alleged that this violated its First and 14th Amendment rights and filed a lawsuit against campus officials, including UC President Janet Napolitano, Chancellor Carol Christ and Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Stephen Sutton. The student organization is represented by attorney Michael Renberg and the nonprofit legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom.

“UC Berkeley categorically rejects the allegation that a decision regarding the status of a student organization was made based on the group’s political perspectives or beliefs,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof in a statement.

YAL submitted a New Organization Interest form, which the LEAD Center uses to approve the creation of new student groups, Sept. 26. The group acknowledged on the form that there were similarities between Cal Libertarians and YAL, but that Cal Libertarian’s “presence on campus has dwindled.”

In the email to YAL, “Daisy” recommended that the student organization confer with Cal Libertarians to see if the groups could “mutually benefit from the ideas of (the) proposed organization.” She added that if collaboration between the two groups did not work, YAL could contact the LEAD center again to set an appointment for “a statement of uniqueness” of the organization. Proof of YAL’s collaborative efforts with Cal Libertarians would be required, said “Daisy” in the email.

According to Caleb Dalton, an attorney at Alliance Defending Freedom, the discretion used in campus policy was “unconstitutional.”

“The First Amendment does not permit the university to pick and choose which student organizations will be recognized based on the students’ views, or whether the university thinks the organization’s views are ‘too similar’ to another organization,” Dalton said.

According to the lawsuit, YAL is asking campus officials to grant the group RSO status. The group is also requesting that the campus revise its policies to be “clear and viewpoint-neutral as required by the Supreme Court,” Dalton said.

Cliff Maloney Jr., national president of YAL, said the organization isn’t looking for any privileges, but rather equal rights to other groups. He cited groups such as Cal Berkeley Democrats and Students for Hillary at Berkeley as similar organizations that had been granted RSO status.

According to Maloney, YAL’s efforts to combat discrimination have successfully changed 28 campus policies across the nation.

“We are not looking for an advantage,” Maloney said. “We are trying to have conversations and dialogue. It is a shame the campus isn’t giving us the rights we deserve.”

Contact Mary Kelly Ford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MaryKellyFord1.