The Students for Life (SFL) campus club at Cal State – San Marcos (Cal State) wanted to bring in a pro-life speaker to address students and asked for $500 out of the fund that all students pay into as a condition of enrollment.
SFL’s request was denied, under circumstances that indicated the pro-life message the club promotes is disfavored by those in control of the funds.
The club filed suit against Cal State alleging the university’s process for funding student clubs violates the First Amendment by granting unbridled discretion to government actors meeting behind closed doors to choose whose message gets funded. A federal judge agreed with SFL, and the case recently settled with a payment of $240,000 to SFL to cover attorney fees and costs. As part of the settlement, the entire Cal State system of schools must change their free speech policies and bring them into conformance with the First Amendment.
The university had little choice after a court ruled in August that, “The Court finds that this is unconstitutionally unbridled discretion and exactly the kind of behavior the First Amendment is in place to prevent.” The court likewise disapproved of the closed-door sessions conducted to decide whether to grant or deny a request for funds, saying, “These ‘back room deliberations’ are exactly the type of considerations the First Amendment is designed to prevent.”
The history of Cal State’s favoritism toward certain messages came out during the litigation. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represented SFL, posted a press statement on its website that explained what had been going on:
“CSU – San Marcos has more than 100 recognized student groups. In the 2016-2017 academic year, the Gender Equity Center and the LGBTQA Pride Center received a combined $296,498 to fund its activities—57 times more than all other 100 student groups combined—compared to the less than $6000 that was actually distributed to all 100 other student groups.”
ADF’s Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer celebrated the court decision and settlement: “We’re pleased that the court recognized the right of all students to be free from discrimination based on their viewpoint and that, as a result, the Cal State system will better align with the ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘individual and cultural diversity’ it touts within its community.
Students for Life of America has more than 1,225 student groups on high school and university campuses across the country. Kristan Hawkins, president of SFL, was quoted in the ADF statement saying, “Public universities have no right to use their power, including mandatory student fees, to restrict or silence speech they don’t like.”
“Because of the initiative and courage of student leaders at Cal State – San Marcos, pro-life students at public universities across California will benefit from the administration’s policy reversal,” Hawkins continued. “Pro-life students should have every opportunity available to them that pro-abortion students have, and anything less is a failure on the part of the university to abide by the First Amendment.”
Congratulations to the SFL members willing to stand up for their First Amendment rights. And school by school, ADF continues to rack up an impressive array of wins for free speech on campuses nationwide.