There are few places in the United States where freedom of speech and freedom of religion are under more attack than on college and university campuses.
Conservative and Christian views have been repeatedly opposed and shut down by liberal professors and progressive student organizations all across the country.
But one student organization is fighting back and just scored a milestone victory for the First Amendment.
Apparently, not even a noted civil rights activist and state politician is welcome on some college campuses if their message doesn’t align with its left-leaning student body.
Last summer, pro-life group Students for Life wanted to bring Alveda King to Georgia Tech, but the event was rejected by the school’s Student Government Association.
King is the niece of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives. But Georgia Tech’s SGA refused to allow her to speak because her views are “inherently religious.”
More than 15,000 students are enrolled in student organizations at Georgia Tech. The university pays the mandatory activity fees that are used to fund campus events, and most events are typically approved with little discussion.
Unless, of course, the SGA does not approve.
According to CNB News, Students for Life member Brian Cochran was interrogated about the organization’s views and the content that would be presented by King.
SGA declined to approve the event because of King’s religious views and her involvement in various ministries. According to Students for Life, SGM members stated that some students might be offended by King’s views on religion and abortion.
Students For Life held the event anyway, without university funding, and brought King to campus to speak on civil rights.
But it didn’t stop there.
The pro-life group also contacted the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty advocacy group, which filed a lawsuit against Georgia Tech.
The federal suit, filed in April, accused Georgia Tech of viewpoint discrimination against King and Students for Life and of violating their constitutional rights.
“When universities dictate, or grant students the power to dictate, which messages and messengers are allowed on campus, they transform universities from ‘marketplaces of ideas’ to a seller’s market of a single ideology deemed acceptable to the SGA,” the lawsuit stated.
ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton said Martin Luther King Jr. himself would not be allowed on campus under SGA’s current policies.
“The Supreme Court made it clear 20 years ago that if public universities wish to force students to pay student activity fees, then those universities have a duty to ensure that the funds are distributed in a viewpoint-neutral manner,” Dalton said.
The lawsuit got Georgia Tech’s attention!
The university recently reached an out-of-court settlement with ADF, agreeing to change its policies and treat all student organizations fairly regardless of their views. It also agreed to pay $50,000 in damages and attorney fees.
ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said the legal victory sends a warning to universities and student groups that have a pattern of violating First Amendment rights with political and viewpoint bias.
“The student government discriminated against the viewpoints of Students for Life and Ms. King in favor of the views of students the SGA members were afraid to offend,” Langhofer said.
“Rather than exemplify this sort of hostility toward the First Amendment, universities should exemplify the importance of those freedoms. When they don’t, they communicate to an entire generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter.”
Langhofer said the ADF, a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of individuals to freely express their faith, encourages universities to teach its students to support and exemplify freedom of speech.
“Georgia Tech has shown its renewed commitment to these principles by taking quick corrective action to revise their policies so that all student organizations are treated fairly, regardless of political or religious views.”
“We hope that other universities around the country will ensure their policies meet constitutional muster without the need for a lawsuit.”
Students for Life of America president Kristan Hawkins said the lawsuit is a victory for pro-life groups and all student organizations.
“Courageous student leaders across the country face real opposition from their schools because they choose to speak for the defenseless and want to peacefully educate their fellow students about it.”
“The Constitution is clear that public universities can’t engage in the type of discrimination that has taken place at Georgia Tech,” she said.