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Ann Coulter’s backers at UC Berkeley file lawsuit

FILE - In this Friday, April 21, 2017, file photo, a leaflet is seen stapled to a message board near Sproul Hall on the University of California at Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif. Berkeley students who invited Ann Coulter to speak on campus filed a lawsuit Monday April 24, 2017, against the university, saying it is discriminating against conservative speakers and violating students' rights to free speech. Campus Republicans invited Coulter to speak at Berkeley on April 27, but Berkeley officials informed the group that the event was being called off for security concerns. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Ann Coulter is now at the center of a civil rights lawsuit filed Monday against the University of California, Berkeley by students who say the school is violating their right to free speech by canceling the conservative pundit’s speaking event on campus this week.

The lawsuit marks the latest twist in a high-profile debate over whether Coulter will be allowed to speak Thursday at UC Berkeley, which has been known for decades as a bastion of free speech and tolerance and the birthplace of the 1960s Free Speech Movement.

A legal team led by Harmeet Dhillon, a San Francisco attorney who is also a prominent California Republican, filed the case on behalf of the Berkeley College Republicans, who invited Coulter, and the Young America’s Foundation, which is helping to organize and finance the event.

“Berkeley is well known as a place where ideas used to be welcome. At least on the conservative side. At least until this recent election,” Dhillon told a news conference after filing the lawsuit at the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. “The university is required to give equal access to speakers of different viewpoints.”

The lawsuit says that Berkeley is trying “to restrict and stifle the speech of conservative students whose voices fall beyond the campus political orthodoxy.”

Dhillon is also a committeewoman to the Republican National Convention for California and former vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party.

Campus Republicans invited Coulter to speak at Berkeley this Thursday, but Berkeley officials informed the group last week that the event was being called off for security concerns.

The university then backtracked and offered an alternate date, but Coulter has insisted that she plans to still come Thursday. It remains unclear where she would hold the event, and no details have been publicized.

Coulter is not a plaintiff on the lawsuit. But she voiced support for it on Twitter, posting Monday that the lawsuit “demands appropriate & safe venue for my speech THIS THURSDAY.”

The university’s attempt to call off the event came after a series of violent clashes this year on campus and in downtown Berkeley between far-right and far-left protesters.

The lawsuit demands unstated damages and compensation for attorney fees, a trial by jury and an injunction against Berkeley officials from “restricting the exercise of political expression on the UC Berkeley campus.”

It names four university officials as defendants, including University of California President Janet Napolitano and Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks, and three police officials, including university police chief Margo Bennett.

The University of California president’s office issued a statement saying it welcomes speakers of all political viewpoints and “is committed to providing a forum to enable Ann Coulter to speak on the Berkeley campus.”

“The campus seeks to ensure that all members of the Berkeley and larger community — including Ms. Coulter herself — remain safe during such an event.”

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