Southeastern Legal Foundation Challenges Private College’s Denial of Turning Point USA Student Chapter

Bethany, West Virginia:  At Bethany College, a group of students wanted to form a chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA) to engage in conversations about freedom, free markets, and limited government. The College denied their application, reasoning that TPUSA has been “affiliated” with hate speech in the past, and that TPUSA’s Professor Watchlist—which monitors professors pushing radical ideology in the classroom—is a form of “harassment.”

Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) filed a letter on behalf of the students demanding that the College approve the students’ application. The College has committed itself to upholding “free and unfettered discussion of the widest possible nature, one which encourages expression of all points of view.” Clearly, the College has broken its promise to protect its students’ rights.

SLF first pointed out that TPUSA “overwhelmingly” denounces hate speech. But even if the organization did not denounce hate speech, Bethany College has committed itself, through its written policies, to protect the free exchange of all points of view—even the most offensive. “Students can never learn from one another if their speech is censored, monitored, and dictated for them based on paternalistic notions of their mental wellbeing,” SLF stated.

SLF also noted that the TPUSA Professor Watchlist cannot reasonably be considered “harassment.” Citing the U.S. Supreme Court, SLF reminded the College that harassment can only be something “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that it would make a professor completely unable to teach. The Professor Watchlist is sourced carefully, and it only includes professors who have been featured in credible, published news stories. And, as SLF clarified, “not a single Bethany College professor is on the Watchlist.”

“The College is violating its own written policies, so one of two things must happen,” SLF General Counsel Kim Hermann states. “Either the College must recognize this student chapter, or it needs to remove any policies that commit itself to upholding free expression on campus.”

SLF awaits a response from the College and will continue to monitor the situation on behalf of these students.

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