College sued for scheme to control student messages


Ball State University in Indiana has been sued over a scheme to collect money from students and dole it out to groups that advocate a message the school espouses.

Such as Feminists for Action and the Secular Student Alliance.

But not the pro-life Students for Life.

The discrimination has triggered a lawsuit by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of the student group and several individuals, Julia Weis, Renee Harding and Nora Hopf.

Defendants are Rick Hall, E. Renae Conley, Thomas Bracken, Matt Momper, R. Wayne Estopinal, Brian Gallagher, Jean Ann Harcourt, Mike McDaniel and Marlene Jacocks, members of the trustees and multiple administrators.

School officials said they would not comment on the dispute.

ADF said Students for Life applied some weeks ago for a $300 grant from the account funded by mandatory student activity fees to share educational resources with pregnant and parenting students.

“Officials denied Students for Life’s request because the organization advocates for pro-life views,” ADF explained, while groups “that advocate for viewpoints administrators prefer” were funded.

“Public universities are supposed to provide a marketplace of ideas, but that market can’t function properly if the heavy hand of government promotes some views over others,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “While Ball State University pledges to ‘respect and learn from differences in people, ideas, and opinions,’ it has failed to respect or listen to Students for Life.

“The college’s unconstitutional actions treat these pro-life students as second-class, denying full participation in campus life while mandating every pro-life student pay more than $1,000 in student fees per year that help fund opposing viewpoints.”

The Student Activity Fee Committee, which controls the mandatory student fees, is allow “to deny recognition and funding for any reason, including unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”

“Ball State University says it pledges to ‘value the intrinsic worth of every member of the community,’ but its student government is playing favorites and stifling free speech,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins.

“If BSU wants to respect every member of its community, it will give Students for Life, along with other groups, equal footing. We support the free-speech rights of all students, encourage the open exchange of ideas, and ask that the rights of pro-life students be respected as their peers’ rights are.”

The complaint points out that the university claims to prohibit funding for “any organization which engages in activities, advocacy, or speech in order to advance a particular political interest, religion, religious faith, or ideology” but then does just that with its funding of other groups.

“The university distributes the mandatory student fees to many organizations that advocate for political, religious, and ideological views, but it excludes Students for Life at BSU and its members from this forum,” the complaint states.

The violations rise to the level of constitutional offenses, the complaint challenges.

“In the context of funding student organizations from mandatory student activity fees, the First Amendment dictates that the university can collect such a mandatory student activity fee only if it proactively ensures that those funds are allocated in a viewpoint-neutral manner, bridling the discretion of those who allocate the funds.”

In this case, Ball State “unconstitutionally compels” the plaintiffs to fund speech with which they disagree, while refusing to provide a fair distribution plan for them to use as well.

In fact, the complaint states, the university funds only a few selected groups and conceals from others their opportunity to seek funding from the Student Activity Fee Committee.

The practices, infringing on the First Amendment’s freedom of speech, amount to compelled speech, viewpoint discrimination requirements and more, according to the complaint.



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