Published On: Sun, Sep 9th, 2018

Ball State settles Students For Life lawsuit over free speech, discrimination

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a pro-life student organization voluntarily dismissed a lawsuit against Ball State University Tuesday after the university eliminated policies that discriminated against “religious, political, or ideological” expression among student groups and implemented safeguards against viewpoint discrimination as part of a settlement agreement.

“Public universities are supposed to provide a marketplace of ideas, but that market can’t function properly if university officials promote some views over others,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “Ball State has taken some important first steps in eliminating the most blatantly unconstitutional aspects of their policies and honoring its intent to ‘respect and learn from differences in people, ideas, and opinions.’ We sincerely hope this serves as a catalyst to review all policies to maximize the free exchange of ideas at BSU.”

In June, ADF attorneys filed Students for Life at Ball State University v. Hall in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on behalf of Students for Life of America’s Ball State chapter. BSU Students for Life had applied to receive $300 from mandatory student activity fees to share educational resources with pregnant and parenting students. However, Ball State officials denied the club’s request because it advocates for pro-life views.

photo Jennifer Moo via Flickr

In addition, the Student Activity Fee Committee distributed funding from the same pool to organizations that advocate for opposing viewpoints, including Feminists for Action, Secular Student Alliance, and Spectrum. Students in the Ball State Students for Life group had already paid their mandatory student activity fees of more than $1,000 per year but were denied equal access to that funding.

“We’re encouraged that Ball State is reversing its discrimination against pro-life students,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins. “Tolerance is a two-way street, and BSU Students for Life deserves equal access to funding and the continued opportunity to share their message of hope with pregnant and parenting students.”

In addition to eliminating the unconstitutional restrictions on certain expression, the university has agreed to implement safeguards against viewpoint discrimination, including the mandated recording of all funding committee meetings, a written reason for denying any student group funds, and implementing an appeals process that up to now hasn’t existed. Ball State also agreed to pay the student group $300 in damages, which is the amount of funds it denied the group last year, and has agreed to pay $12,000 in attorneys’ fees because Students for Life had to go to court to defend its constitutionally protected freedoms.

“Today’s university students will be tomorrow’s voters and civic leaders,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “That’s why we affirm Ball State University’s decision to change course and enact policies that better exemplify the First Amendment values that public colleges and universities are supposed to be teaching to students.”

Students for Life of America is the nation’s largest pro-life youth organization and currently serves more than 1,200 groups in colleges, high schools, and medical schools across the U.S.

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