Georgia Tech has agreed to change its policies and pay $50,000 in damages and legal fees to the university’s Students for Life of America (SFLA) group after facing a federal lawsuit for denying funding for a speaking event featuring pro-life activist Alveda King.
King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., currently serves as the director of Civil Rights for the Unborn, a ministry of Priests for Life, and is well-known for her work on the boards and committees of numerous organizations, including the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, Coalition of African American Pastors and the Judeo-Christian Coalition for Constitutional Restoration.
Last summer, SFLA, which is a Christian pro-life group, submitted a request to the Student Government Association (SGA) for funding the King event out of the pool of mandatory student activity fees available for such events. However, when Brian Cochran, a member of the group, presented the request to the graduate and undergraduate houses of the SGA, they interrogated him on the content and viewpoints that SFLA and King would present at the event.
The student government then denied the funding request, stating that because King has been involved in religious ministries, her life was “inherently religious,” and they could not separate that from the event about civil rights and abortion. They also expressed concern that some students might be offended by King’s presence on campus because of viewpoints she had expressed in the past.
Despite being denied university funding, SFLA decided to hold the event, during which King spoke about her experience in the civil rights movement, encouraging students to continue that legacy.
SFLA also sought help from religious liberty law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
“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,” explained Tyson Langhofer, ADF senior counsel and director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “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.”
After ADF filed a federal lawsuit on the SFLA group’s behalf, Georgia Tech agreed to a settlement that included changing its policies to treat all student organizations fairly, regardless of viewpoint.
“Georgia Tech’s previous policy allowed discrimination against Ms. King because she was accused of leading an ‘inherently religious’ life,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “Under such a standard, MLK himself would not be welcome on campus. Thankfully, by changing these policies, the university is respecting our clients’ First Amendment freedoms and better living up to its duty to offer a marketplace of ideas, where diverse viewpoints should be encouraged, not shut down.”
SFLA President Kristan Hawkins celebrated the news:
“Courageous student leaders across the nation face real opposition from their schools because they choose to stand up for the defenseless and peacefully educate their fellow students about protecting the preborn. The Constitution is clear that public universities can’t discriminate against students for their political or religious beliefs, and we are hopeful that Georgia Tech’s decisive policy changes will set an example for universities around the country to uphold all students’ constitutional rights.”
Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom