I can hardly believe it, but it has been nearly 20 years since the Supreme Court handed down the landmark decision in Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia and said that public universities who allocate mandatory student fees to student groups must do so on a viewpoint neutral basis. That’s why I was surprised when yet another student group contacted us for help after a university refused to fund its pro-life event on campus.
Earlier this month, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of Students for Life at Eastern Michigan University. SFL is hosting the Genocide Awareness Project on campus in April and applied for student fee funding to help pay the costs. GAP is a traveling photo-mural exhibit which compares the contemporary genocide of abortion to historically recognized forms of genocide. EMU’s student government refused to provide any funding because it said the event was too “biased,” “controversial,” and “one-sided.” When SFL pressed the matter, the student government pointed to an EMU policy that prohibits funding for any student event that contains “political or ideological” speech.
It’s hard to fathom any college student speech that doesn’t contain some political or ideological message. Anyone who has walked around a college campus has seen the variety of advertisements for political and ideological events. Indeed, EMU does provide funding for political and ideological speech of some student groups, but chose to exclude SFL from funding simply because the event, which contains a pro-life message, was too biased, controversial, and one-sided.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that public universities persist in maintaining these obviously unconstitutional policies. Last year, Alliance Defending Freedom represented a student group at Texas A&M University after the university denied it funding to bring a socially conservative speaker to campus. And just a few years ago, we represented the Badger Catholic student group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in a student fee lawsuit that lasted several years and reached the highest courts in the nation.
We hope EMU will do the right thing, like Texas A&M did last year, and resolve the lawsuit by removing the restriction on political or ideological speech. If not, we’re prepared to go to the trenches and secure a lasting legal victory for the free speech of all EMU students.