February 26, 2021
By Kileen Lindgren
Yesterday, the Goldwater Institute’s American Freedom Network secured a victory to protect an Arizona college student’s right to free speech. Thanks to Network attorney Jack Wilenchik, Arizona State University student Rae’Lee Klein has settled her case against the school in exchange for seven times the statutory penalty for violations of free speech—compensating for lost wages and publicly acknowledging the University’s error of exposing her to harassment and criticism, including from the dean of the journalism school.
Last fall, the University tried to silence Klein by punishing her for sharing information on social media. The school removed Klein—a journalism student—from her job as the University’s student radio station manager. Her offense? Simply sharing 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 event.
Thoughtfully sharing information and considering facts is the duty of a journalist. By punishing her, the University 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.” This type of administrative bullying on college campuses is increasing, as noted by pro-freedom ally Speech First—colleges are revoking admissions for students based on years’-old personal social media posts, restricting the operations of right-leaning student political groups, and amending speech codes to use ambiguous and vague words that enable subjective standards for enforcement.
The latter issue was at the heart of a successful legal challenge brought by Speech First against the University of Texas, in which the Goldwater Institute filed a friend of the court brief in support of students’ free speech rights. This lawsuit challenged the application of vague terms such as “offensive,” “biased,” or “rude,” which is not only subjective but has the effect of chilling speech—particularly unpopular speech—for fear of enforcement or punishment.
Goldwater’s American Freedom Network is at the forefront of defending the First Amendment. In December 2020, Goldwater and Network attorney Joseph Van De Bogart secured a free speech win for a Florida high school student. Tyler Maxwell, a senior in the Volusia County School District, had his parking permit revoked for having a pro-Trump elephant statue in the bed of his truck. A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order that allowed Tyler to keep the statue in his truck and return to school. The judge later issued a final judgment affirming the school’s violation of Tyler’s First Amendment rights.
“Yesterday’s win is significant for students everywhere—thought-policing has no place in our schools,” said Klein’s attorney and Network member Jack Wilenchik. “Rae’Lee Klein stood up to harassment and acted on journalistic principle.” According to Klein, “Without the Goldwater Institute and its American Freedom Network, I may never have been able to stand up for my and my fellow students’ rights.”
The Goldwater Institute and its American Freedom Network are committed to defending free speech on campuses around the country, and you can read more about these efforts here. If you are an attorney who would like more information about the American Freedom Network, the pro bono program for lawyers who care about liberty, please visit this page or contact Kileen Lindgren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kileen Lindgren is the Legal Programs Manager at the Goldwater Institute.