Los Angeles (AFP) - Two conservative groups filed a lawsuit 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 campus 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," read the lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco.
University officials said last week 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 as well as the student group.
The lawsuit said that the new proposed date 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, liberal figures addressing the same contentious topic as Coulter had freely spoken at the school in recent weeks.
They include former Mexican leader Vincente Fox and Maria Echaveste, a former advisor to ex-president Bill Clinton.
"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.
A spokesman for the university, a public institution, said a response to the suit would be issued later Monday.
The decision to shelve Coulter's appearance at the campus came days after opponents and supporters of President Donald Trump clashed in the city.
It also follows a similar cancellation in February of a planned speech at the university by right-wing provocateur and former Brietbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, following 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 last week after posters appeared on the walls of campus buildings threatening disruptions.