'We beat Berkeley!' Conservative groups welcome free speech settlement at CAL

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Some conservative groups are calling it a landmark victory for free speech at UC Berkeley, home of the free speech movement.

A lawsuit filed by the Young America's Foundation, claims, in part, that UC Berkeley violated the First Amendment rights of conservative students by placing restrictions on and squashing conservative viewpoints.

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"I definitely think it's a big, important win. We beat Berkeley!" says Matt Ronnau.

Ronnau is president of the Berkeley College Republicans, the largest conservative group on campus.

Part of the settlement includes having university change its campus events policy, and to make public its fees for security costs. The campus is accused of imposing arbitrary security fees - sometimes allegedly triple for conservative speakers - and putting curfews on their events.

"We (don't have to) have our events be scheduled to be at 3 o'clock on a Saturday. We can (now) have them when we want," says Ronnau.

The university will also pay $70,000 fine to the Berkeley College Republicans and Young America's Foundation.

The lawsuit was filed last year in 2017, just after controversial speaker Ann Coutler's speaking event was rescheduled by CAL, leading to her decision to cancel. The university cited security concerns. Two months earlier, there were violent clashes at right-wing speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos' speech.
"They can't pick and choose if free speech means speech that you disagree with," says lawyer Harmeet Dhillion, who represents the conservative groups.

Says she recognizes the challenge for universities. Political events can lead to chaos and even violence. But she says that can't be the basis for determining who gets to speak on campus.

"(There are) student who are very vocal, you have Antifa - off campus groups - that protest and cause havoc like you (had) at Berkeley. (But UC Berkeley has) chosen the path of least resistance, which is shutting down speech. But the constitution doesn't permit that," says Dhillion.

For its part UC Berkeley seems to be claiming a win as well. It insists the settlement is about avoiding hefty legal fees. They point to 12 conservative speaking events from this past year. Finally, adding that the policy changes were minor.

RELATED: UC Berkeley official says 'We got played' on Free Speech Week

"They initially alleged that we had an unconstitutional policy that was thrown out of court. They alleged we had a secret policy, that claim was abandoned. And they alleged that we discriminate, somehow, against conservatives speakers. And that claim was abandoned," explains Dan Mogulof, a spokesperson for the university.

Dhillion says other lawyers are seeking to use her model to try similar cases at campus across the U.S.
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