By Binghamton Review Staff
On July 21st 2020, Young America’s Foundation (YAF)—joined by Binghamton University College Republicans and College Republicans President Jon Lizak—filed a federal lawsuit against Binghamton University. According to YAF, the civil rights action is taking place due to what they believe to be a failure by the University to ensure the protection of the First and Fourteenth Amendment, as well as seemingly targeting conservative student groups. In addition to being directed towards BU administrators Harvey Stegner, Brian Rose, and John Pelleteir, legal action by YAF is also being taken against student group College Progressives and leftist organization Progressive Leaders Of Tomorrow, otherwise known as PLOT. The plaintiff group alleges that, in conjunction with the leftist groups that have disrupted both College Republicans and Dr. Arthur Laffer, SUNY-Binghamton authorities have engaged in a pattern of censorship of conservative voices, amounting to what YAF levies as an unlawful conspiracy to suppress civil rights.
Following the introduction of the plaintiffs and defendants within the lawsuit, the full 75-page complaint of YAF v. SUNY-Binghamton first cites the initial tabling incident that occurred on November 14, 2019. During this incident, both College Republicans and Turning Point USA (TPUSA) were tabling along the Spine. Although they did not have permission to table, both groups cited the fact that other student groups would not schedule tabling beforehand as well, along with their right to free speech. College Republicans were tabling to promote an upcoming lecture by Dr. Arthur Laffer called “Trump, Tariffs, and Trade Wars,” co-hosted by YAF, while also handing out hot chocolate; TPUSA was tabling to promote their conservative organization, complete with conservative signage and Make America Great Again hats. Following three hours without incident (starting at 10am EST), group chats within progressive student circles noted the presence of these tablers, along with calls to “fuck em [sic] up.” Here, YAF cites the video detailing the incident, noting the destruction of property by the eventual mob of leftist protesters as well as the physical assault of one of the tablers. Additionally, later statements made by Brian Rose included inaccurate categorization of College Republicans’ actions, plans to discipline the group, and an admission that the University Police Department (UPD) was directed to remove and escort the tablers. Rose announced plans to not seek to charge or discipline protesters.
The resulting incident facilitated YAF to gain assurances from Binghamton administrators that the upcoming lecture featuring Dr. Laffer would not be disrupted, upholding their freedom of speech. Despite these pleas, the University failed to respond with assurances. Simultaneously, progressive groups such as PLOT and College Progressives produced numerous social media posts calling for protesters to disrupt the event and suppress Dr. Laffer’s free speech. Much to the displeasure of College Republicans and YAF, the University contacted the groups acknowledging these social media posts, while also stating that protesters would be accommodated by the University, provided a space directly adjacent to the Lecture Hall room while also instructing UPD how to remove Dr. Laffer in the event of disruption, while failing to promise protection of their free speech. Upon the time of the event, protesters effectively shut it down via the heckler’s veto, with YAF noting that both the University and UPD failed to take any meaningful action to stop the disruptions, resulting in its cancellation. While causing more than $37,000 of financial damage, the administration failed to take disciplinary action against the progressive groups that catalyzed the protest, and instead suspended College Republicans for failing to get permission to table. In spite of ready promises later made by administrators to discipline College Progressives, YAF alleges that this never occurred, and that this continuous failure to take meaningful action amounted to being complicit in suppressing conservative students’ right to freedom of speech.
All of these events effectively culminate in YAF stating six total causes of action. Firstly, the administration, through their punishment of College Republicans and not College Progressives, illustrated their use of state power to discriminate against a specific political viewpoint. Secondly, YAF accuses College Progressives and PLOT of conspiracy to suppress the civil rights of the plaintiffs based on their political affiliation. Thirdly, Binghamton University became complicit within this conspiracy via failure to discipline College Progressives as well as continued accommodation of this group in spite of breaking university policy. Fourthly, despite knowing these plans, YAF states that administrators such as Harvey Stenger and Rose failed to prevent College Progressives and PLOT in executing their conspiracy. Fifthly, the inaction of these administrators effectively endorsed the disruption of the lecture, hence denying the free speech of College Republicans. Lastly, the administration utilized the Speech Suppression Policy, which may have violated the Fourteenth amendment.
With these causes of action, YAF believes that Binghamton University has in essence promoted the silencing of conservative voices on campus. Through its failure to take any significant action, YAF argues that the administration has violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, meaning it is in contradiction with United States federal law. This, along with the disruptive protesters, means that YAF is willing to represent College Republicans and other conservative voices in a legal battle against the administration as well as the groups responsible for the protests. The full complaint can be accessed here.