Young America’s Foundation (YAF) won a significant free speech victory after challenging the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, for requiring student groups to sign a “Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity” (DEI) statement.
To be recognized as an official, on campus group, the UW La Crosse Student Association required student groups to include support for the DEI declaration in their organizational by-laws.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) partnered with the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) to challenge the DEI requirement, which they said “opposes YAF’s values” and violated their First Amendment rights. YAF, a conservative student organization, is active on more than 2,000 high school and college campuses.
In March 2021, the UW La Crosse Student Association passed a resolution mandating the inclusion of this paragraph in the bylaws of all student organizations:
The University of Wisconsin, La Crosse recognizes and values the diverse identities, backgrounds, and beliefs of our faculty and of the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse student body. Our definition of diversity includes, but is not limited to ability, age, class, documentation status, gender identity, language, military status, nationality, race, religion, and sexual orientation. We are committed to providing and promoting an environment free of prejudice by addressing issues of equity and justice in our community, and we support the success of marginalized identities.
WILL and MSLF sent a letter to the university challenging the mandate, saying:
The University of Wisconsin may not compel student groups to express these ideological beliefs – regardless of their underlying merit – because the Constitution forbids it.
The letter said the statements were “dubious,” asking YAF to “deny biological reality” by recognizing a person’s “gender identity,” which may not comport with his or her biological sex. The letter added:
Similarly, forcing YAF to mouth a commitment to advancing the interests of individuals who lack “documentation” to be legally present in the United States, requires them to state opposition to the enforcement of valid immigration laws.
When the requirement was challenged, MSLF Senior Counsel James Kerwin opined:
Universities are supposed to be havens for free inquiry and expression. But, like many schools nationwide, UW is going in the opposite direction: outlawing speech and trying to force dissenters to shut up and tow the party line.
Kerwin added that the school had “no business whatsoever telling YAF or any other student group what beliefs it must have and what positions it must take on social issues.”
UW General Counsel Quinn Williams sided with YAF, sending a letter to then-Chancellor Joe Gow, who was recently fired from his position “after his porn career with his wife came to light,” as NBC News reported.
Seems like the school has other issues besides trampling on students’ freedom of speech.
Williams stated that the DEI requirement was prohibited by Regent Policy Document 30-6, which gives student organizations “the authority to condition membership to … its own goals and beliefs.”
Williams added that the university’s student association “impermissibly limits the ability of such student organizations’ ability to determine their own goals and beliefs” and violated the Board of Regent’s policy, paving the way for YAF to be recognized by the UW La Crosse Student Association.
WILL Deputy Counsel Dan Lenington applauded the victory for YAF, saying:
This is a victory for free speech and equality. WILL stands ready to defend the Constitutional rights of every Wisconsinite. Period. We applaud the students at UW La Crosse for standing up for themselves and setting a great example for others to follow. On the other hand, it’s time for academia to ditch the woke nonsense.
Image credit: Michael McGonigle