Last week, the University of Wisconsin paid almost $500,000 to the Alliance Defense Fund for violating the First Amendment rights of Badger Catholic, the Catholic student organization on campus. ADF has litigated a number of cases against the University of Wisconsin over the years challenging the unconstitutional abuses inflicted on students and student groups by its mandatory student fee system.
The Supreme Court, in ADF’s first case against UW, Board of Regents v. Southworth, ruled that the University could require students to pay a mandatory fee that funds groups some students might find objectionable, only if all student groups had an equal shot at receiving student fee money to fund their advocacy. The University of Wisconsin violated this constitutional principle by denying funding to Badger Catholic for some of its expression the University deemed too religious – expression involving prayer, worship or “proselytizing.” “Proselytizing” is just a negative word meaning, “trying to convince other people to agree with the opinion you are advocating.” Most student groups urge other students to join their cause. The expression of campus religious groups contributes to the debate in the marketplace of ideas at a modern university, so their voices should not be hobbled by denying them access to funding that all other student groups can receive. Yet UW insisted that the Establishment Clause stopped it from funding student groups, although the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled otherwise in favor of equal access.
We hope the payment of ADF’s attorneys fees for years of litigation will convince the University of Wisconsin that it pays to obey the Constitution. But we are not sure if other public universities are getting the word. If you are a college student, and your state university is denying your group funding because of “separation of church and state” or that your group is “too religious,” or, “too controversial,” or that because your speech will offend others, please contact the Alliance Defense Fund. We’ve gained a lot of experience on this issue from our time going after the University of Wisconsin.
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