Score one for freedom of speech and protection of the unborn.
In a 2017 lawsuit, Nathan Apodaca and Students for Life at California State University, San Marcos claimed that they were “denied university funding to host pro-life speakers, while mandatory student government fees were being used to sponsor the so-called Gender Equity Center and LGBTQA Pride Center.”
This year, after a drawn-out legal battle, their efforts to stop this discriminatory policy finally paid off.
Lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented the pro-life chapter, filed the lawsuit “challenging the university’s discriminatory funding policies used to fund pro-abortion and other favored views while preventing a pro-life organization and its campus president, Nathan Apodaca, from accessing student funding to promote their views.”
“The university funded the Gender Equity and the LGBTQA Pride Center with almost $300,000 in mandatory fees while denying Students for Life $500 in funding to host a visiting speaker on ‘Abortion and Human Equality’ to provide a contrasting view,” the ADF said.
In August 2019, a federal court ruled that the university’s policies were unconstitutional and constituted viewpoint discrimination. In other words, the court opined that the university was improperly discriminating against views it opposed by way of denying or providing minimal funding.
The university’s policy is troubling for several reasons. First, it appears to violate the fundamental right to free speech on campus. Clearly, the university should not be permitted to condition funding on whether it agrees with a particular idea or message.
Moreover, the policy prevents, or hinders, the free exchange of ideas, which is paramount in a free and open society.
If this type of conduct is permitted, it would result in a dangerous precedent that would significantly erode our right to freely speak and express ourselves and make the university the “gatekeeper” with regard to what viewpoints are permitted.
Fortunately, the parties recently entered into a settlement agreement under which the university agreed to pay $240,000 in legal fees and $3,000 in damages and to refund Apodaca $300 for his student association fees.
More importantly, as part of the settlement agreement, the California State University system — is the largest four-year university system in the U.S., with almost half a million students and 23 campuses — agreed to change its policies and “adopt viewpoint neutral standards guiding decision-making in connection with the allocation of mandatory student association fees made to any RSO (‘Registered Student Organization’) or other similar student-conducted event that involves viewpoint expression.”
Additionally, as reported by LifeSite News, “The student government must not ‘discriminate against any funding request based on the viewpoint to be expressed by the RSO or proposed event.’ If funding applications are ‘denied or reduced’ then reasons must be given for the decision, as well as a ‘right of prompt appeal.'”
The settlement is a significant victory for proponents of free speech and those who are pro-life, and sends a clear message that viewpoint discrimination will not be tolerated at public universities.
As ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton succinctly stated:
“Public universities should encourage all students to participate in the free exchange of ideas, not create elaborate and secretive funding schemes to fund their favorite groups while excluding opposing views from equal access. We’re grateful the district court rejected the university’s unfair, secretive, and discriminatory policy, and that the university has agreed to allocate student fees only in a viewpoint-neutral manner, instead of picking favorites.
“The university system’s policy changes don’t simply benefit our clients but also benefit any student with a minority viewpoint and every citizen who cares about dialogue and intellectual freedom within our public colleges and university communities.”
Dalton’s assessment is exactly right. Hopefully, this lawsuit will serve to deter other universities from engaging in similar conduct.
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