Published On: Wed, Jan 18th, 2017

Colorado State sued for denying pro-life group funds, not making ‘folks feel affirmed’

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Colorado State University on behalf of CSU Students for Life, a student organization denied funding strictly because of its views. University officials denied the group access to funds from mandatory student activity fees on the basis that they disapproved of its proposed campus event, which featured a speaker on the topic of abortion and bodily rights.

In an e-mail denying the funding application, CSU officials wrote that the students’ chosen speaker did not “appear entirely unbiased” and that “folks…won’t necessarily feel affirmed attending the event.” The university routinely funds events for other groups without making this requirement. Although the school charged Students for Life members the same mandatory activity fees that all students pay to fund the grants, Students for Life members are not being allowed to benefit from the grant as other students can.

Scale of Justice photo/DTR via wikimedia commons

“Universities should encourage all students to participate in the free exchange of ideas, not play favorites with some while shutting out others,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “Colorado State University funded the advocacy of its preferred student organizations but has excluded Students for Life from consideration based purely upon the viewpoint expressed in its funding request to bring a speaker to campus. Because of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, courts have repeatedly rejected this discriminatory treatment as unconstitutional.”

In September, Students for Life at Colorado State University applied to the university for a “Diversity Grant” to host a speaker from the Equal Rights Institute on the topic of abortion and bodily rights. The grants, designed to enhance educational and cultural programming that “raise the awareness of differing perspectives,” are funded by mandatory student fees. The university denied Students for Life’s application claiming that the proposed speaker’s content “doesn’t appear entirely unbiased as it addresses the topic of abortion,” and therefore its diversity grant “committee worries that folks from varying sides of the issue won’t necessarily feel affirmed in attending the event.”
“Too frequently we see that public universities feel they can deny funding to a student group just because a speaker presents arguments from a point of view they don’t agree with,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins. “CSU played favorites while stifling free speech, a typical response of abortion advocates who prefer to silence opposition rather than have a free exchange of ideas.”

The lawsuit, Students for Life at Colorado State University v. Mosher, explains that the decision of university officials to deny the grant violated Students for Life’s constitutionally protected free speech by denying it equal access to student-fee funding solely on the basis of the proposed speaker’s viewpoint. Additionally, the complaint asks the court to halt the university from applying a discriminatory double-standard by funding other groups’ speaker events on the same or similar topics.

ADF has prevailed in similar lawsuits against the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Texas A&M University.

Students for Life of America is the nation’s largest pro-life youth organization and currently serves more than 1,031 groups in college, high schools, and medical schools across the U.S.

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