Saturday, December 21, 2013

U. of Mich. sued for funding student events based on which views it prefers - Alliance Defending Freedom

U. of Mich. sued for funding student events based on which views it prefers

DETROIT — Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the University of Michigan on behalf of a student organization denied funding strictly because of its views. University officials denied the group funds from mandatory student activity fees based on its views because officials say they prohibit such funding for "political" or "religious" events; however, the university has provided funding to other groups involved in political and religious speech.

"Universities should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas," said Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker. "The university funded the advocacy of other student organizations but singled out Young Americans for Liberty for exclusion based purely upon the viewpoint expressed at its event. Courts have repeatedly regarded this as unconstitutional."

Last month, Young Americans for Liberty at the University of Michigan applied for student fee funding for expenses related to an affirmative action lecture it hosted. The university denied the request because they deemed the event "political."

The lawsuit, Young Americans for Liberty at the University of Michigan v. Coleman, notes that university officials have been inconsistent with their funding guidelines and have allocated the same funds to the political and religious speech of other groups discussing "immigrants rights, affirmative action, and Islam, just to name a few." In fact, shortly before denying YAL funding, the university granted funding to a group that sponsored a pro-affirmative action event.

"When a public university collects mandatory student fees and then allocates a portion of those fees to student organizations for their expressive activities, the First Amendment requires that the university provide access to the fees on a viewpoint neutral basis…," the complaint filed in the case explains. "But the University prohibits the allocation of these mandatory student fees to any student organization activity deemed political or religious. As a result, the University compels all students to fund the speech of their peers, even speech that they may disagree with, but prohibits some students from speaking at all in the forum."

"The constitutional freedoms of political and religious student organizations must be recognized by university officials just as they recognize those freedoms for other student groups," added Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. "We hope the University of Michigan revises its student funding policy to include all groups, regardless of their political or religious viewpoint."

Steven M. Jentzen, one of nearly 2,300 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, is co-counsel in the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Alliance Defending Freedom has prevailed in similar lawsuits against Eastern Michigan University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Texas A&M University.

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