October 13, 2020
By Kileen Lindgren
While America’s colleges and universities should be embracing open discourse, the unfortunate reality is that free speech is frequently not welcome on campus. That’s something Rae’Lee Klein understands well.
In August, Klein—a journalism student at Arizona State University, and manager of the student radio station—shared a New York Post article on her personal Twitter account about the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The article discussed Blake’s history, including his criminal record, and in her tweet, Klein encouraged her followers to consider all the facts surrounding this horrific event.
Klein’s tweet was met with outrage from her classmates, who insisted that ASU remove her from her managing duties as the radio station. And unfortunately, the university did just that: Rather than promote the exchange of different points of view, Arizona State University removed Klein from her managing position. While Klein’s post was not inflammatory or designed in any way to disturb or impair university operations, she did share information that wasn’t popular with many of her fellow students or staff. But by punishing her, ASU not only violated Klein’s free speech rights, it also violated journalistic ethics—which “[s]upport the open and civil exchange of views, even views [journalists] find repugnant.”  In a situation where the university should remain neutral, it acted in a biased manner—Klein’s tweet even elicited personal criticism from the dean of the journalism school.
While many students may have given up, Klein chose to stand for her First Amendment rights and demonstrate the importance of ethics in journalism. Thanks to American Freedom Network attorney Jack Wilenchik at Wilenchik and Bartness, Klein’s free expression rights and those journalistic principles can be protected.
“Unfortunately, it falls to Rae’Lee—a twenty-one-year-old student—to stand up against a university for the principles of journalistic integrity and freedom of thought that schools of journalism are supposed to teach,” said Wilenchik, who is representing Klein. On October 12, Wilenchik filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona asserting that the university violated Klein’s free expression rights and her rights under Arizona law.
The Goldwater Institute’s American Freedom Network provides pro bono opportunities for private practitioners around the country. With attorneys barred in every state and the District of Columbia, the Network is expanding liberty-minded litigation in meaningful ways. If you are interested in learning more about this program, visit www.americanfreedomnetwork.net or contact Kileen Lindgren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kileen Lindgren is the Legal Programs Manager at the Goldwater Institute.