LOS ANGELES - Two conservative groups filed a lawsuit on Monday against the University of California at Berkeley claiming that a decision to cancel an appearance by the firebrand pundit Ann Coulter violated their right to free speech.
The Berkeley College Republicans and Young America's Foundation, which had invited Coulter to speak on April 27, accused the university of seeking to silence conservative viewpoints and stifle political discourse at the famously progressive campus by imposing unreasonable demands on events involving certain "high-profile" speakers.
"Defendants' discriminatory imposition of curfew and venue restrictions has resulted in the cancellation of two speaking engagements featuring prominent conservative speakers in the month of April, 2017," reads the lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco.
Apart from Coulter, the lawsuit said a scheduled appearance by conservative writer David Horowitz on April 12 also was cancelled after the university imposed restrictions on the time and place.
University officials have insisted that Coulter's scheduled appearance at Berkeley to discuss illegal immigration was scrapped because of security concerns after several recent protests in the city turned violent.
Following a firestorm over the decision, the school offered a new venue and date -- May 2 -- which were rejected by the right-wing commentator who vowed to appear at Berkeley this Thursday as planned.
The lawsuit said that the new proposed date in May falls during a period known as a "dead week," when no classes are held and fewer students are on campus due to final exams the following week.
It added that while heavy restrictions were being imposed on conservative speakers, other figures addressing the same contentious topic as Coulter had freely spoken at the school in recent weeks.
They include former Mexican leader Vicente Fox and Maria Echaveste, a former advisor to ex-president Bill Clinton.
- Free speech debate -
"It is unfortunate that the very school that is considered the 'birthplace of the Free Speech Movement' is now leading the charge to censor thoughts, ideas, and debate," said Ron Robinson, president of Young America's Foundation.
The university said in a statement on Monday that it was committed to allowing speakers from "all political viewpoints" to appear at Berkeley and that the decision to scrap Coulter's April 27 appearance was motivated by security concerns and not politics.
"UC Berkeley has been working to accommodate a mutually agreeable time for Ms. Coulter’s visit – which has not yet been scheduled – and remains committed to doing so," the statement said. "The campus seeks to ensure that all members of the Berkeley and larger community – including Ms. Coulter herself – remain safe during such an event."
The cancellation of Coulter's talk came days after opponents and supporters of President Donald Trump clashed in the city.
It also followed the cancellation in February of a planned speech at the university by right-wing provocateur and former Brietbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, after violent protests.
University officials said they had learned that some of the groups that took part in recent clashes planned to target Coulter's appearance.
They said security concerns mounted after posters appeared on the walls of campus buildings threatening disruptions.
Observers say the legal brouhaha with Coulter will test the university's legacy as a champion of free speech.
"Her critics would have done well to deny her attention by treating her scheduled appearance with the ambivalent yawn every provocateur most dreads," The Atlantic online magazine said.
"Instead, they began playing into her hands, situating her appearance in a paradigm where free speech is cast as being in conflict with anti-racism -- a wrongheaded frame anathema to civil-rights heroes and marginalized protesters the world over."
© Agence France-Presse