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Students sue UC Berkeley over canceled Ann Coulter speech

(Reuters) - Students who invited conservative commentator Ann Coulter to speak at the University of California at Berkeley sued school officials on Monday, saying their cancellation of the event was discriminatory and violated free speech rights.

The Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation said in their lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, that U.C. Berkeley was violating their constitutional rights seeking to “burden or ban” events “involving the expression of conservative viewpoints.”

The groups named University of California President Janet Napolitano and other university officials in the lawsuit. They asked the court to fine the school and award damages to organizers of the speech.

Coulter had been scheduled to speak on April 27 but the appearance was canceled by the university, Berkeley citing violence that broke out at the campus in February hours before another right-wing media figure, Milo Yiannopoulos, was scheduled to speak.

Several other conservative speakers have been met with sometimes violent protests when invited to speak at U.S. universities with liberal-leaning student bodies in recent months.

The university later rescheduled Coulter’s appearance to May 2 at a different venue but she said she could not make that date and pointed out that students had no classes that week.

Coulter has said she will speak at Berkeley on Thursday, the original date, with or without permission of the university.

University spokeswoman Dianne Klein said in response to the lawsuit that the school was “committed to providing a forum to enable Ann Coulter to speak on the Berkeley campus.”

“The allegation ... that Ms. Coulter is being prohibited from speaking because of her conservative views is untrue,” Klein said.

Coulter had been expected to discuss her 2015 book, “¡Adios, America!: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole,” which is critical of Democrats’ pro-immigration policies.

Coulter is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit but said in an email to Reuters on Monday she supported it. She wrote that it was part of “our demand that university administrators and Berkeley police to do their jobs, stop violating the Constitution, and provide me with an appropriate, safe venue for my speech this Thursday.”

Berkeley is known as the birthplace of the student-led Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. As with other U.S. colleges and universities, it has tried to find a balance between ideological openness, safety and opposition to what some describe as “hate speech.”

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Jonathan Allen in New York, Mark Hosenball in Washington and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angles; Editing by Andrew Hay and Bill Trott