A federal lawsuit is accusing the University of Minnesota of trying to suppress the views of a conservative speaker, Ben Shapiro, who appeared on campus in February.
The lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday by Shapiro and two conservative groups, claims that the U barred him from speaking at a 1,000-seat venue on the Minneapolis campus and restricted him to a "remote" location half its size because it feared protesters would try to disrupt the event.
"No university official has the authority to suppress viewpoints simply because of how someone might respond to it," said Tyson Langhofer, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Shapiro and the other plaintiffs. "Like all government officials, public university administrators have an obligation to respect free speech rights."
The university issued a brief statement Tuesday saying it was aware of the lawsuit and "will review it carefully to determine our next steps."
In February, U officials said they ruled out the larger venue, Willey Hall, because of security concerns, and worked with the event's sponsors to find a site that was easier to safeguard. Shapiro, a conservative political commentator and author, has drawn protesters on college campuses throughout the country.
His speech at the U, which took place Feb. 25 at the St. Paul Student Center, drew several dozen protesters, and police blocked off nearby roads to control the crowd.
The lawsuit says that the U's actions prevented many students from attending the event, and blamed what it called a "Speech Suppression Policy" that allows administrators to "prohibit, chill, oppose and shut down speech with which they, or other students and faculty, disagree."
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. A U student group, Students for a Conservative Voice, and the Young America's Foundation, which sponsored his speaking tour, joined Shapiro in filing the lawsuit. President Eric Kaler and four other U officials are named as defendants.