Ann Coulter student supporters file suit against UC Berkeley

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Students from University of California, Berkeley, who invited Ann Coulter to speak on campus filed a lawsuit Monday against the university, saying it is discriminating against conservative speakers and violating students’ rights to free speech.

A legal team led by Harmeet Dhillon, a San Francisco attorney who represents the Berkeley College Republicans, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

Dhillon is also a committeewoman to the Republican National Convention for California and former vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party.

“This case arises from efforts by one of California’s leading public universities, UC Berkeley -- once known as the ‘birthplace of the Free Speech Movement’ -- to restrict and stifle the speech of conservative students whose voices fall beyond the campus political orthodoxy,” the lawsuit says.

Campus Republicans invited Coulter to speak at Berkeley this Thursday, but Berkeley officials informed the group last week that the event was being called off for security concerns.

“I was the one who personally invited Ann Coulter, said Naweed Tahmas, the spokesman for the Berkeley College Republicans. “Students are trying to create a liberal echo chamber on campus where one view point is allowed. Any other viewpoint is attacked and harassed.”

Violence erupted on the Berkeley campus in February when outspoken conservative Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to appear. He was rushed from the building for what campus police said was his own safety.

The university then backtracked and offered an alternate date, but Coulter has insisted that she plans to still come Thursday.

“Our police department has made it clear that they have very specific intelligence regarding threats that could pose a grave danger to the speaker, attendees and those who may wish to lawfully protest this event,” said Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

Coulter tweeted Monday that the lawsuit “demands appropriate & safe venue for my speech THIS THURSDAY.”

The lawsuit demands unstated damages, compensation for attorney fees, a trial by jury and an injunction against Berkeley officials from “restricting the exercise of political expression on the UC Berkeley campus.”

UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said the university’s attorneys were reviewing the complaint but were confident that “we are on very solid legal grounds.” The university and its police department say they have credible intelligence of security concerns if the event goes ahead Thursday and they need to balance their need to allow free speech with the need to ensure campus security.

“The constitution permits the university to take such steps to protect public safety while facilitating expressive activities, and that is exactly what we are doing,” Mogulof said.