Colleges and universities should be marketplaces of ideas where students can encounter a variety of thoughts and opinions. But, unfortunately, we all know that this is not the case in many institutions of higher education today.
Take Ball State University (BSU) for example, a public university in Muncie, Indiana. When a pro-life group at BSU wanted to share educational resources for pregnant and parenting students, the university blocked them from receiving money from mandatory student activity fees.
All students at BSU pay more than $1,000 per year in these mandatory student fees and almost a quarter million dollars of this money is distributed to student groups representing a wide spectrum of viewpoints. But when members of the group, a chapter of Students for Life, asked for $300 from the funds they paid into, university officials deemed their pro-life views too “ideological” to receive the money – all while providing funds to student groups promoting the opposite viewpoint.
The Constitution makes it clear that all people, no matter what their viewpoints are, have the right to free speech, and students have the right to equal access to use of the fees they pay regardless of their viewpoint. Just this past term, Justice Anthony Kennedy reaffirmed this important principle in a case involving the State of California’s discrimination against the speech of pro-life pregnancy centers. Kennedy wrote in NIFLA v. Becerra that “[f]reedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief.”
A public university like BSU has a constitutional obligation to allow all of its students to speak freely, no matter what their opinions may be. And it’s wrong for the university to exclude Students for Life from accessing the fees the students paid, and that are available for other student organizations.
Fortunately, the members of BSU Students for Life fought back against this blatant act of viewpoint discrimination. In June, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit against BSU on their behalf in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
On Tuesday, prompted by the lawsuit, BSU agreed to eliminate its discriminatory policy and replace it with one that better protects all viewpoints.
President of Students for Life of America Kristan Hawkins said she was “encouraged” by BSU’s policy reversal. “Tolerance is a two-way street,” she said, “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.”
The right to free speech applies to all Americans, no matter what their views are. Yet, on college campuses across the country, students are being taught that certain viewpoints can be silenced if government officials consider them too “controversial” or “offensive.”
Fortunately, there are students and student groups such as BSU Students for Life that are willing to stand up for constitutional rights on campus: not only for themselves but for all students. In doing so, they are promoting a better understanding of how the First Amendment actually works – not to mention helping BSU honor its pledge to “respect and learn from differences in people, ideas, and opinions.”