Spotlight Interview with Tyson Langhofer: Defending the First Amendment on College Campuses

Tyson Langhofer

Tyson Langhofer serves as senior counsel and director of the Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending Freedom. He has represented college students and student organizations throughout the country in defending their freedom of speech, freedom of association, and free exercise of religion. Tyson joined Carmen live for an interview at the ADF Summit and discussed recent disturbing trends surrounding the First Amendment on college campuses around the country, how the ADF is fighting for students’ rights, and why it is important that we all continue to do so.

Carmen LaBerge: All right friends. I have a special treat for us today. I’m actually sitting here face to face. I’m gonna have a conversation with Tyson Langhofer. Tyson is an attorney, he is an expert on what’s going on America’s college campuses. We are gonna have a conversation about free speech. We are gonna have a conversation about what students across America are being exposed to. We are gonna talk about how we can help students, how we can help faculty members. How we can actually help universities in our communities to be places where freedom really thrives in the area of free speech.

Carmen LaBerge: You are listening to Connecting Faith. I’m your host Carmen LaBerge, I’ll be right back with Tyson Langhofer. Hey friends, welcome back, you are listening to Connecting Faith. I’m your host Carmen LaBerge. Joining me today is Tyson Langhofer. Tyson, well, let’s just start with, what do you do, what is your role and responsibility? I know that you work with the Alliance for Defending Freedom. Tell us what that is and what your role is?

Tyson Langhofer: Alliance For Defending Freedom is an organization that defends rights of everyone to freely live out their faith. We are the legal organization that provides legal services to individuals that find themselves on the wrong side of the government power. Trying to essentially tell them that they can live according to the dictates of their conscience. Any problems they experience with the First Amendment. I specifically, I’m the director of the Center For Academic Freedom. That’s a center within ADF that defends the rights of students, and faculty to freely live out their faith on the college campuses.

Carmen LaBerge: It’s probably a surprise to some people that college campuses would be environments where people were seeking to limit speech, because we think of college campuses as being the place where you go for the free exchange of ideas, where you go to like, explore what the truth might be, and every avenue to it. Tell us what college students in America are experiencing.

Tyson Langhofer: It’s frightening and surprising because we have viewed and we all kind of in our minds have this view of universities as this marketplace of ideas, where you can explore various aspects of philosophy and so forth and figure out what the truth is. Unfortunately, what you are seeing today is a uniformity of thought, and a suppression of ideas by certain ideologies.

Tyson Langhofer: If you, if a college student expresses something that’s outside of the mainstream, liberal orthodox here on campus, there is a whole host of policies in place that are designed to suppress and chill, and basically squelch that speech. Unfortunately, what we see is a lot of religious students are saying things that are outside of the mainstream liberal orthodoxy, and thus they are on the wrong side of the university’s policies.

Carmen LaBerge: You used some words there that I think it would be helpful to define for people. When we think of mainstream liberal orthodoxy, there will be at least some listeners who are thinking main line Christian thoughts. They are saying, “Hey, my main line church has a pretty mainstream liberal orthodoxy. That’s not what you are talking about.”

Tyson Langhofer: That’s correct. I think that is important to define that. When I talk about liberal it’s really probably more progressive. It would be a better way to define it, because traditional liberals in the past have been the protectors of free speech. You saw that in the 60s in UC Berkeley, where they protected, they were the ones being suppressed. Their ideas were different than the norm, and they were being suppressed.

Tyson Langhofer: What I’m talking about is a progressive ideology and here is the heart, the root of all of these policies is this. There is a growing belief that speech is violence. That certain speech that you disagree with can be so outrageous that it’s literally equivalent of violence, and thus they have the ability to utilize physical force to stop you from speaking there. They’ve turned it on its head, and they basically said, “I have the right to physically, because you said something that I disagree with.”

Tyson Langhofer: The belief pattern in college campus is a growing belief that if you say something that I disagree with, I have a right not to hear that. Then I will go the university to tell them, you need to stop this person from saying this, because I have a right not to hear that, because it’s offensive to me.

Carmen LaBerge: What we would be talking about then is the right to sensor speech based on how people might respond. How could I ever predict that?

Tyson Langhofer: That’s the exact problem. What you have is there is a term in First Amendment law, that’s called the heckler’s veto. The supreme court has said it multiple times, a heckler’s veto is basically where you have a person speaking, and you have a heckler, I bet you’ve heard of hecklers.

Carmen LaBerge: I’ve heard of hecklers. I’m super duper familiar with hecklers.

Tyson Langhofer: The heckler’s veto would be when you have somebody speaking something, and somebody in the crowd disagrees with it, and they are heckling back, and then they basically the authorities get worried about violence, and in order to stop the threat of violence they say, “I’m gonna stop the speaker.” As opposed to saying, “I’m gonna stop the heckler,” who is the one engaging in the physical violence or the assaults through the threats. What the heckler’s veto says is, “Hey government. You don’t have the right to shut down speech if somebody else disagrees with it. What you have the obligation to do is to stop others from physically violently assaulting that person, that they are saying something wrong.

Tyson Langhofer: The reason the government typically shuts down the hecklers is because it’s easier to shut down the speaker. It’s easier to do that than to have a whole crowd that you are shutting down. You just say, speaker, please move, you are making people uncomfortable. That’s easy. What the First Amendment say is, “No, the speech that needs protecting is the speech that people disagree with.” It’s not the majority speech. It’s the speech that makes people uncomfortable. I think that’s what we forget about. Even as Christians, and as conservatives. Sometimes, that’s a really offensive thing that person said. That’s the exact type of speech that the First Amendment was designed to protect, the speech the majority doesn’t want to hear.

Carmen LaBerge: All right friends. You are listening to Connecting Faith. My conversation partner is Tyson Langhofer. Tyson is responsible for the Center For Academic Freedom, with the Alliance Defending Freedom. He’s an attorney, but he’s an attorney who knows a lot about what’s happening on our college campuses, and he has represented college students and student organizations throughout the country in defending their freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of exercising religion, on and on and on.

Carmen LaBerge: Tyler let’s talk … Tyson. I don’t know who Tyler is. Tyson is who is here with me today. Tyson, let’s talk about some of those specific cases.

Tyson Langhofer: We hear a lot in the news a lot about specific cases. But I think what people would be surprised about is the breadth and the range of the policies that we are dealing with. One rising trend we see is the rise of trigger warnings. Again, it goes back to this notion that students should be sheltered from something that may offend them. We represented the Students For Life at University of Miami, and University of Ohio. Students For Life, they wanted to, their goal, their mission is to provide resources to women who find themselves pregnant on campus.

Tyson Langhofer: It’s something, a mission that we could all get behind, provide resources to women that find themselves pregnant on campus. What they do is they’d go out and they talked about the pregnancy centers in town and so forth. Another thing they do is just raise the level of discourse on abortion. One of the things they wanted to do is have a cemetery of innocence display. They are going to erect crosses in a lawn on campus, in an open area of campus. Each cross was going to represent a certain number of abortions that occur every year in America.

Tyson Langhofer: They did it last year, and it went well, and in that fact they found out, several women told them later that they had been contemplating abortion. They were pregnant, contemplating abortion, saw that, recognized that the power of that is that each one of those represents a human life, and they changed their mind. That speech, that expression saved lives. They were super excited about it this last year, they got it approved, but then the school said, “You know what? We are afraid that’s gonna offend some students. You can do it but you are gonna have to put signs all around that, so that students that don’t want to view it can walk the other way.”

Tyson Langhofer: Ellen Wittman the president said, “You know what? I don’t agree with that. I’m being compelled to speak a message that I disagree with, and you are conditioning my speech upon speaking a message that I disagree with.” She said, “No, I’m not gonna do that.” They didn’t do the display, they were forced to cancel the display because of this condition placed upon it. They contacted us, and we were able to file a lawsuit, and thankfully, immediately after filing it, the university agreed to remove that, to modify that policy and to no longer require trigger warnings, because what you saw was that there is tons of displays every year.

Tyson Langhofer: Never, had anybody else been required to put up a trigger warning no matter how offensive so called the speech was. What they were doing was they were conditioning this pro-life speech upon placing these warnings around it. That’s definitely something that we see a lot, especially in the pro-life context. We represent a lot of Students For Life clubs, and they do great work, providing great resources to women. Yet they are being shut down all the time, all the time on campuses throughout the country.

Carmen LaBerge: Friends, you can find out more about this specific story at You can actually connect with Tyson there as well. Tyson, let’s talk about. That’s trigger warnings. Give us another example of the breadth of what people are dealing with.

Tyson Langhofer: Another thing along the same lines is this notion of security fees. You see a lot about all of these protests are coming across the country, where conservative speakers are invited to campus to talk about an issue that people don’t like. What the school will say is, “You know what? Our student body is exercised because of this. They are really angry. The professors are riling the students up.” They said, “It’s gonna cost us some money to defend this, because we need again to defend the heckling. Stop these hecklers from doing bad things.”

Tyson Langhofer: What they do is they tell the student group, “You have to pay for this security.” Some people say, “What’s the harm? They are being protected by that. That’s a service.” That’s true, but what you have to realize is it’s essentially attacks on speech. Your speech is more expensive because other people disagree with it. It’s another form of suppression that we can’t allow on campus. The university has a duty to protect and to maintain order on campus. They need to stop others from violating the law. They need to enforce the rules that are actually on campus.

Tyson Langhofer: We see security fees being used to suppress across the country. We represent Young Americans for Freedom, and Ben Shapiro, because Ben goes around. And he’s one of the most effective conservative speakers on campus, because he knows how to really articulate what it means to have conservative values. We represented them at Cal State LA about a year and a half ago. Predicatively, the campus erupted. The school said, “Well, you are gonna have to pay for security.”

Tyson Langhofer: We sent them a letter and they said, “We are not gonna pay security because it’s wrong.” On the day of the event, the professors released class. Told everybody to go to flab the student union, block the door so students couldn’t hear them speak. The real problem was, they were gonna charge them for this. There were 24 police officers on campus that day. They normally only have four. They didn’t do a single thing to remove these people that were blocking both doors. The attendees were literally locked in there, breaking all kind of fire codes, all kinds of hazards, and they didn’t do a single thing.

Tyson Langhofer: The university refusing to enforce policy is trying to charge them for the security that they didn’t even provide. That’s the type of impediments that are thrown in the way of students that are trying to bring a different viewpoint where it really just isn’t welcome.

Carmen LaBerge: All right. I know some of you are listening right now and you are in the midst of packing your kids for college. And now you are thinking about unpacking your kids for college. I don’t think that’s what Tyson would advocate. We actually want to continue to engage in these conversations as challenging and difficult as they may be. I think it’s our responsibility to become equipped to not only engage in the conversations, but to do in ways that are sometimes provocative, and provoke other people to respond in ways that well frankly expose everything about what they are thinking and how they are operating.

Carmen LaBerge: Tyson, we probably have time to talk about one more thing before we go to break. I’m wondering, if you ever … If the challenge is ever given, why don’t conservatives just stop talking, or just stop inviting people to campus? Why not sort of conceded that ground that it’s now become some liberal place. Why not just let it go?

Tyson Langhofer: We have a saying at the Center for Academic Freedom that what happens on campus doesn’t stay on campus.

Carmen LaBerge: Like Vegas.

Tyson Langhofer: Like students. It is like Vegas, it’s the same very very similar results. Here is the truth we have to accept, these students are going to be tomorrow’s leaders. They are going to be our legislators. They are gonna be voters. They are going to be our professors, and our attorneys and our judges. We have to educate them, we have to provide a different voice. I absolutely agree with you. We are not called to withdraw, we are called to be salt, and light. We can’t lose our flavor, and we can’t just be all piled up in a corner. We need to be there, and here is the encouraging thing.

Tyson Langhofer: When we bring this voice it is wanted. There is a desire for this voice out there, that Young Americans for Freedom group at Cal State LA is now one of the largest in the nation, because one student agreed to stand and say, “I’m not okay with this.” People came to that. They liked that. They are inspired by that. I think that’s my charge to your listeners.

Carmen LaBerge: I think in my own experience, somebody has to lead. There are a lot of people that are absolutely willing and ready to follow, and they are looking for people that are speaking the truth. We just got to have somebody that’s willing to take the risk of leadership.

Carmen LaBerge: All right friends. We got to take a quick break. When we come back, we are gonna continue our conversation with Tyson Langhofer of the Alliance Defending Freedom about what’s happening on our college campuses. You are listening to Connecting Faith, I’m your host Carmen LaBerge.

Carmen LaBerge: All right friends. Welcome back, you are listening to Connecting Faith. I’m your host Carmen LaBerge, I am privileged to be joined today by Tyson Langhofer. Tyson is with the Alliance Defending Freedom. He is working with college students across the country on a variety of campuses where they wanna say some things, sometimes it’s Students For Life. Sometimes it is an organization of conservative students who want to bring a speaker on to campus who can help people understand conservative values, or really anything.

Carmen LaBerge: Tyson is with us today to talk about some of the challenges that young students, students in general, they may not all be young, most of them probably are, are facing our college campuses, and where are some of those trends. We are on a conversation right now about the trends that folks are experiencing. Talk with us about another of the current trends.

Tyson Langhofer: One of the really disturbing trends that we see are this, the allocation of student fee. Many people might not understand this. They pay a lot of money in tuition.

Carmen LaBerge: This is totally gonna make parents mad. Let me just tell you, if you are driving right now, and you are just writing a check for student fees. I’m just telling you in advance, this next portion of the conversation is gonna make you angry.

Tyson Langhofer: It will. I’ve got two in school right now. It just drives me crazy. Everybody knows the student debt is this huge problem. We pay enough in tuition, but almost everybody if they are going to school, look on your bill, you’ll see a separate charge for a student activity fee, or a student fee. What’s that designed to do is it’s designed to go fund the expressive activity of student organizations. Sounds like a great mission, right? I agree it’s great, because what that does is it’s supposed to expand the marketplace of ideas you have.

Tyson Langhofer: Most of these large campuses have hundreds of student groups. 800,000 student groups. They are all forced to pay into this fund, and it funds things that they are not gonna agree with. All kinds of speech they don’t agree with. What the supreme court has said was, you can force students to pay those fees only if the policy that allocates them is done in a viewpoint neutral manner. In other words, the school can’t say, “We like this viewpoint, you’ll get a bunch money. We don’t like your viewpoint, you don’t get it.” What we find is the schools uniformly do not comply with that rule. We are representing Students For Life, a Nathan Apodoca, at Cal State St. Marcos right now.

Tyson Langhofer: Students For Life wanted to do what every student group wants to do. They wanted to bring their viewpoint to campus. They invited Mike Adams. A professor who we’ve actually represented in the past, to come speak about pro-life issues, and they wanted $500,000. I think they each pay $1,000 a year, if I recall correctly, to each student into this fund. They wanted 500 bucks, and they were denied.

Tyson Langhofer: They said, “We don’t fund outside speakers for student organizations.” That confused Nathan, because he knew that the gender equity center and the LGBTQ pride center bring in speakers all the time. He asked me, “I don’t understand. They are bringing in speakers with these fees all the time.” And they said, “Well, they are different.” We found out how different they were.

Tyson Langhofer: There is $2.1 million that come into student fees every year that go to the associated students, which is the student government. They allocate off the top $300,000 to the LGBT center and the gender equity center. They say, “You can use those for whatever you want.” They do all kinds of stuff with that. Every other student organization, 100 of them get $30,000 to split between them. They get a max of 500 per semester, and they can’t use them for speakers, or for any kind of prize or incentive to get people to come to their events.

Tyson Langhofer: Yet, the gender equity center, and the LGBTQ pride center can use it for that all the time. That’s not what you call viewpoint neutral, in fact it is viewpoint-

Carmen LaBerge: It’s so biased.

Tyson Langhofer: It is very biased. Now, let me tell you what the pride center, and the gender equity center do. They have multiple events throughout the year. One of them is Gaypril. It’s a month long celebration of the gay and the lesbian lifestyle. When I found out about Gaypril, I told Nathan. I said, “You need to request some funding for a follow up event the next month called maybe we shouldn’t kill babies. But I’m not sure that they are gonna fund that event.” This month long event. That’s because its viewpoint discriminatory.

Tyson Langhofer: They have things called the Pleasure Party, where they hire outside workers, they bring in a speaker, they pay to literally teach students how to use sex toys. That’s what they do. Every student is paying for that, and yet they are being denied the same access. What you’ve got is this hugely unbalanced viewpoint being, not only does the university get to speak their view through their professors, which are overwhelmingly liberal, they also utilize all these funds being paid by students to fund overly whelming progressive viewpoints from students.

Tyson Langhofer: They are just fighting a battle at every step of the way to get their viewpoint out. Again, this is a view we have to have on campus. We have to have pro-life voices telling women there are other options. There are organizations that will support you. That’s why we love supporting clients like Nathan, who says, “I’m willing to take a stand. I’m willing to take on the largest university system in the nation.” It’s got 25 campuses. A massive massive budget, and he says, “I’m gonna take on that, because it’s worth the fight, because there are millions of dollars going to be funding all kinds of views, that I disagree with, and I can’t get the same access.”

Carmen LaBerge: All right friends. Now I know you are upset. I know you are upset because things are happening on college campuses that break your heart, and things are happening on college campuses to prohibit the freedom of speech, and the free exercise of a religious viewpoint in some cases. If students who are advocating for pro-life concerns are doing so from a particular religious conviction, certainly we know that there are pro-life folks who are secular as well. They might be involved int his as well. Tyson, I remember chalking. Is chalking still a thing?

Tyson Langhofer: Chalking is a thing. It’s a really big thing for Students For Life.

Carmen LaBerge: You have to tell people what chalking is, because some of them are thinking, “Hey, chalking is what my grand-babies do on the driveway. What is chalking?”

Tyson Langhofer: It’s exactly what it they do. These student groups are poor. They don’t have a lot of funds. Unfortunately, many of them, the conservatives can’t get the funding. So what they do is they buy chalk, and then they go put it on sidewalks and they say, “Hey, we’ve got an event this week. Come to our event at seven o’clock in room c, whatever it is.

Carmen LaBerge: It’s very eco-friendly, because there is no poster board-

Tyson Langhofer: It is. It’s cheap, eco-friendly, washes off with the rain, no big problems at all. There is tons of sidewalks on college campuses. It’s a great way. Students For Life have found that it’s a great way to get the message out about the resources for women. They are walking along, and it’s very non intrusive. We had a client at Fresno state, Students For Life group of Fresno State.

Tyson Langhofer: They actually got permission from the school to chalk some life affirming messages on the campus. Several of them went out early in the morning before students got there and chalked. It was things like, “Hey, if you are pregnant and you need help. Call this number.” Very life affirming. Right after they got done they saw a bunch of students wiping this off then they saw a professor wiping that off.

Tyson Langhofer: Bernadette Tasy, the president got her phone out and she goes up to the professor and says, “What are you doing?” He says, “I’m wiping these off. You don’t have permission.” She said, “Yeah, actually I do.” He goes, “Well, okay, let me,” and she said, “Stop wiping this off and tell your students please.” He said, “You mean this right here?” He goes over and starts wiping off again. She goes, “This is my free speech.” “You are not in the free speech zone, and college campuses are not free speech zones.”

Tyson Langhofer: He proceeds to wipe that out, even though there was permission and she wasn’t violating any rules. That’s the kind of animosity that our students are facing on campus. This is an authority figure telling her that. Thankfully Bernadette decided to stand up for herself and for her rights, and she sued Professor Thatcher. Professor Thatcher ended up having to pay a lot of money to us for attorney’s fees, and actually happened to pay damages to her, and her students whose messages he wiped out.

Tyson Langhofer: The reason this is important. That was just a single campus, but it’s important that students stand up and say, “We are not going to allow our rights to be trampled upon.” When they do that they set precedent for the students that come behind them. We need like you indicated earlier, we need warriors. We need people who will go out and say, they are not looking for trouble, but when trouble comes they are willing to stand, and they are willing to say, “You know what? I’m willing to stand.” Ronald Reagan said, “There is a price for freedom, but it’s only about half the cost of doing without it.” There is a prize we pay, but it’s not nearly the prize we would pay if we didn’t have that freedom.

Carmen LaBerge: Tyson, if there is somebody listening right now, and they are a student, or they know a student who has had this kind of experience on a college campus, and they want some information. They can go to the website, which is ADF stands for Alliance Defending Freedom, What other information would recommend to them?

Tyson Langhofer: We have a lot of resources online that talk more specifically about specific details, what are your rights on campus, what rights do you have in class? What rights do you have as a professor? There is a lot of professors out there who similarly feel squelched. They can’t say what they are supposed to say and they are worried, “What can I say in class? I’m a Christian. Can I share my views?” We’ve got information about what rights you have as a faculty member, what rights you have as a student on a college campus. We have information what rights K-12 students have at their schools, because the supreme court has made it clear that they don’t give up the right at the school house store. They have First Amendment rights.

Tyson Langhofer: They may be a little bit more limited than what you have on college campuses, but you still have rights. We’ve got a number of resources there. Frankly, the easiest way to do it if you don’t find that there. Just contact us, that’s why we are here. We have a passion for helping students and faculty that are wanting to live out their faith and they feel a little bit threatened, a little bit worried about what would happen. I want you to know that you’ve got a friend at ADF, that’s why we are. That’s what we do. Contact us, reach out, give us your information, and we’ll get with you. We’ll tell you, we can advice you. Even if the conflict hasn’t come, we can’t let you know what your rights are, and what type of actions you can take if your rights are infringed?

Carmen LaBerge: Let’s have one more conversation before we let you go. Thank you for being so gracious with your time today. Students are heading for campus in the next few days, weeks, certainly within the next month. They arrive and there is all kinds of information, in their email inbox, in their text message communications, in flyers, in their mailboxes. At all kinds of booths across campus. When you referenced free speech zones, I think of college campuses as free speech zones, what was that professor talking about when he said, “College campuses are not free speech zones.”

Tyson Langhofer: There is this also growing trend on campus for again to shelter students from not hearing things they don’t wanna hear. What colleges have said is like, “Okay, you can speak, but if you are gonna speak you need to speak over here in this zone.” It’s usually a very small zone, and it’s usually in and out of the way area, so that people don’t have to hear these things that they don’t want to hear.

Carmen LaBerge: Is it like the courtyard behind the engineering building or something? Is that what we are talking about here-

Tyson Langhofer: Some types.

Carmen LaBerge: Okay, it’s a specific physical location.

Tyson Langhofer: It is a very specific physical location, and what they’ll tell you is, “You can’t speak outside this.” We’ve represented students at Grand Valley State University, who, there was three of them, and had this free speech ball. This big beach ball, and they were just walking around promoting free speech and telling students to write whatever message they want on it. The school said, “Hey, you can’t do that.” We are talking about three students with a beach ball on a college campus. They are not harming anybody.

Tyson Langhofer: They said, “You need to be in the speech zone.” Several days later they saw this huge anti-trump rally, hundreds of students walking through campus and then into the administration building, and back out, no police around when that happens. Again, it’s not only an unconstitutional to sequest a speech off and out of a way area, but then they are enforced discriminatorily.

Tyson Langhofer: What the supreme court says is, “Look, you can’t have a public sidewalk, and tell students they can’t speak on that public sidewalk. These are areas where they live. It’s like if we had to get a permit before speaking on our town sidewalk or handing any sort of pamphlet, that’s the type of thing we are talking about.

Tyson Langhofer: Again, the growing trend … The great news about this is, here is the good news. The bad news is there is a lot of these bad policies. The good news is, when somebody stands up to challenge them, we win. We have a 90% success rate. We’ve had over 400 victories in the last 12 years on college campuses. If we just have students that are willing to take a stand, and challenge these policies. Every student that comes behind them is gonna be more free on their campus, and their campus is gonna be more of a marketplace of ideas. That’s the encouragement I wanna leave with your listeners is we can win if we have people that will stand.

Carmen LaBerge: All right friends. You are gonna go to That stands for Alliance Defending Freedom, Tyson Langhofer. Thank you so much for joining us today on Connecting Faith.

Tyson Langhofer: Thanks for having me.