Conservatives sue Univ. of Fla. over mandatory student fees

A conservative student group is suing the University of Florida over a mandatory student fee policy that allegedly discriminates based on viewpoints.

UF’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter alleged that the school violates the First Amendment in its funding of student groups, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.  Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian conservative nonprofit, is representing the student group.

”State universities are uniquely expected to be a free marketplace of ideas, not an assembly line for one type of thought,” ADF Legal Counsel Blake Meadows said in the nonprofit’s news release. “University of Florida administrators are limiting YAF members’ First Amendment freedoms by forcing them to pay into a system that funds opposing viewpoints. Worse yet, the university forces YAF to play an arbitrary, complex game of Chutes and Ladders, in the funding process, wherein the student group can continually be sent back to the beginning of the game at the sole discretion of the student government.”

[RELATED: Liberals have 20:1 edge in student fee funding at UW-Madison]

”The university also changed its rules to apparently single out and disqualify the conservative group from receiving funding for speakers fees and honoraria—making it even more difficult for the group to express its viewpoint on campus.”

YAF’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, asserts that schools can only charge required student activity fees if the collected funds are distributed without regard to the viewpoint of student groups interested in receiving them. The lawsuit states that UF requires that students pay $19.06 in student activity fees for each credit they take. The school’s student government reportedly doles out more than $1 million in student fees to 48 budgeted student groups. Another 859 unbudgeted student groups receive a total of $50,000.

UF denied budgeted organization status to YAF, but the student group was able to obtain funding for a speaker honorarium via the school’s Special Request policy. UF changed its Special Request policy to apply only to budgeted student groups after YAF attempted to obtain funds for a second speaker honorarioum, according to the ADF news release.

[RELATED: Conservative group has funding suspended after hosting Prager]

”All students are entitled to viewpoint-neutral access to and allocation of student activity fees—or they should get their money back,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, who also serves as director of the nonprofit’s Center for Academic Freedom, said in the news release.

“The YAF chapter deserves the same equal access to university resources as every other student organization on campus,” YAF Associate General Counsel Mark Trammell commented in the release. “It is completely inappropriate for the University of Florida to treat students differently because of their beliefs. The purpose of today’s lawsuit is to remedy this inequity.”

”The University of Florida is committed to upholding the First Amendment right to free speech and promoting a campus community that is open to all points of view,” UF spokeswoman Margot Winick told Campus Reform.

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