Pro-life group sues CSU for denying funds based on content
A Students for Life chapter has filed a federal lawsuit accusing Colorado State University of denying funding for an event because officials objected to its pro-life theme.
The lawsuit, filed by attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), alleges that university officials refused to provide funds from mandatory student activity fees for an SFL event featuring a speaker who would discuss abortion and bodily rights, solely because they disagreed with its content.
According to the lawsuit, the group applied for a “Diversity Grant” to fund the event in September 2016, describing it as an effort “to educate students on the differing perspectives surrounding the abortion argument and encourage students to take a stance on the issue.”
After presenting its proposal to the Diversity Grant Committee, however, the group received an email from Campus Activities Program Coordinator Tyrell Allen explaining that the request had been denied because the “speaker’s content doesn’t appear entirely unbiased as it addresses the topic of abortion” and the “committee worries that folks from varying sides of the issue won’t necessarily feel affirmed in attending the event.”
“CSU felt they had the right to deny the Students for Life group funding just because the speaker was presenting arguments from a position they didn’t agree with,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America (SFLA), stated in a press release. “CSU played favorites while stifling free speech, a typical response of abortion advocates who prefer to silence opposition rather than have a free exchange of ideas.”
All students pay CSU’s mandatory student activity fees, which can exceed $6,000 over eight semesters, but SFLA argues that “Students for Life members are not being allowed to benefit from the grant” while claiming that “the university routinely funds events for other groups” that do not fit the “unbiased” condition imposed on SFL.
“Universities should encourage all students to participate in the free exchange of ideas, not play favorites with some while shutting out others,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “Colorado State University funded the advocacy of its preferred student organizations but has excluded Students for Life from consideration based purely upon the viewpoint expressed in its funding request to bring a speaker to campus. Because of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, courts have repeatedly rejected this discriminatory treatment as unconstitutional.”
“The cornerstone of higher education is the ability of students to participate in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ on campus” the lawsuit says. “In the context of providing funding to student organizations for their expressive activities, the First Amendment dictates that this marketplace cannot prefer some viewpoints to others. Indeed, public universities can collect a mandatory student activity fee only if they ensure that those funds are allocated in a viewpoint-neutral manner. Further, public universities cannot discriminate against student speech in a public forum based on content or viewpoint.”
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