EXCLUSIVE: A top Chicagoland Jesuit college preparatory school may have violated the civil rights of some of its students and an Army veteran by blocking them from expressing their conservative views while allowing liberal opinions, a Fox News investigation has found.
Student activities group leaders at the Wilmette, Illinois-based Loyola Academy told students they could not form conservative clubs because they were “anti-Semitic and racist.” The school also rescinded a job offer that had been accepted by an Army veteran due to his political views.
Loyola Academy, a private school that boasts high-profile alums such as comedian Bill Murray and actor Chris O’Donnell, would typically be shielded from civil rights laws.
However, the school in April 2020 took $4.87 million of federal money under the Paycheck Protection Program of the CARES Act, which was designed to keep workers on payrolls during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants in the program must agree “not to discriminate in any business practice, including employment practices and services,” according to the Congressional Research Service, in accordance with federal civil rights laws.
“Technically and precisely, if the school accepts federal funds, it is required to treat the freedom of speech and expression the same way the federal government is required by the First Amendment,” said Judge Andrew Napolitano, senior judicial analyst for Fox News.
The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech, religion and the press.
Loyola Academy did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
Conservative students at Loyola were told in December 2020 that they could not start a chapter of Turning Point USA, an organization that advocates conservative narratives on school campuses because it overlapped with the politics club. The students said there was no overlap because Turning Point USA brought a different viewpoint from the liberal-leaning politics club. They were then told Turning Point USA was “anti-Semitic and racist.”
Attempts to start at least one other conservative group, Young Americans for Freedom, were met with similar resistance.
This came as Loyola displays a Black Lives Matter banner in one of the most heavily trafficked hallways. Black Lives Matter launched a political action committee in the weeks ahead of the 2020 election in an effort to influence the outcome.
Loyola Academy, in order to avoid or challenge a civil rights violation, would “have to demonstrate that permitting Black Lives Matter and other organizations on that end of the political spectrum is not harmful to the school’s educational mission, but permitting young Americans for Freedom or Turning Point USA somehow is,” Napolitano said.
He added that it would be “nearly impossible” for the school to do so.
“What has been going on violates our expectation of the school and the ‘contract’ and trust we have in the school to form fully our children according to the tenets of our faith,” said a parent speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of backlash who was under the impression that because Loyola is a private institution it could do what it pleases.
The school says on its website that the Jesuit tradition calls on it to “participate and engage in respectful dialogue and to listen with ears of compassion.” Loyola Academy aims to “build a welcoming, accepting school culture and climate in which all members feel a genuine sense of belonging.”
Meanwhile, George Kemper, an Army veteran who served as a specialist in northeastern Syria and graduated from Loyola Academy in 2013, was in November offered employment as a freshman baseball coach.
While Kemper received a letter that “officially” invited him to coach the team, his employment was subject to a background check, concussion testing and other unnamed stipulations, according to emails reviewed by Fox News.
The part-time offer, which Kemper accepted in writing two days after it was received, paid a stipend of $2,755 that would be raised by a little more than $1,000 every three years.
An offer, plus acceptance of that offer, plus the party relying on that offer constitutes it is legally binding under contract law.
“I was really excited to just get back into that community after I got out of the Army,” said Kemper, who is a third-generation graduate of the school. Both his grandfather and uncle have been inducted into Loyola’s sports hall of fame, and his father also went to school there.
But in early January 2021, before Kemper received the official paperwork for an offer, he got a phone call saying the opportunity was being withdrawn due to some politically sensitive Facebook posts that questioned COVID-19 restrictions issued by different states.
“The federal civil rights statutes prohibit hiring, promoting, failing to promote or firing based on political opinions,” Napolitano said.
“So it is clear that the school is bound by that because they accepted the PPP funds and whatever they did with him, he is clearly in that ambit,” he added. Kemper was “either not hired or fired because of his political opinions after he had accepted their offer.”
Under the law, Kemper, who was “not sure” if his rights were violated, should be entitled to monetary damages and injunctive release or a check for lost wages and a comparable job at the school. It is possible that Kemper could also be awarded punitive damages due to political bias.
A Facebook search conducted by Fox News revealed that at least one teacher, Peter Jansen, posted left-leaning content. Fox News reported in March that Jansen had asked students to answer for their White privilege. The Loyola Community has since started a petition in support of Jansen and the school’s theology department.
“Parents don’t want anyone fired, we just want this fixed,” said the parent speaking anonymously.
Kemper says he doesn’t regret speaking up about the COVID restrictions but wishes the school would’ve handled the situation differently by giving him a chance to explain himself.
“My family and I have great pride in being from Loyola,” Kemper said.
“I hope that the school will see the folly in their ways and in some aspects of their policies and correct them,” he added. “It would bring people back to Loyola who are, at the moment, not proud to be affiliated with them.”