Federal District Judge M. James Lorenz of the Southern District of California ruled that California State University (CSU) of San Marcos discriminated against the pro-life group Students for Life by denying the group $500 of student activity funding to host a visiting speaker.
Students for Life (SFL) is just one of CSU-San Marcos’ more than 100 recognized student groups. In the 2016-2017 academic year, the university’s Gender Equality Center and LGBTQA Pride Center together received nearly $300,000 for speech and expressive activities, which amounted to more than 21% of CSU-San Marcos’ mandatory student activity fees fund. The school’s other groups combined received less than $39,000 for similar activities—less than 3% of the fund—with each group only permitted to request $500 from the fund per semester.
During the same school year, SFL applied for a $500 “Leadership Funding” grant to host pro-life speaker and University of North Carolina-Wilmington professor Mike Adams. Adams had been invited to speak on the topic “Abortion and Human Equality.” The grant request was promptly denied by Associated Students, Inc. (ASI), which oversees the distribution of the student activity fees fund.
“Universities should encourage all students to participate in the free exchange of ideas, not concoct elaborate funding schemes to award their favored few with first-class status while denying even economy class to opposing views,” said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “California State University-San Marcos has spared no expense to fund the advocacy of its preferred student advocacy groups but denies funding for speakers from Students for Life and similar student groups. The result is a two-track system by which the University compels some students to fund the speech of their peers with whom they may disagree, but prohibits those same students from using these funds to present a different viewpoint.”
In 2017, ADF filed a federal lawsuit for “viewpoint discrimination” on behalf of SFL.
In his ruling last week, Judge Lorentz wrote, “The Court disagrees that the [ASI Leadership Fund] funding process disburses the mandatory fee based on viewpoint-neutral criteria” and described the funding decision-making process as “backroom deliberations.”
“The [current funding guidelines] provide the decision-making officials unbridled discretion to promote or suppress certain viewpoints through the allocation of … funds,” said Lorentz.
Lorentz also specified in his ruling that CSU-San Marco’s student activity fees fund cannot be distributed until “specific and detailed standards guiding decision-making [are] adopted.”
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said: “Public universities have no right to use their power, including mandatory student fees, to restrict speech they don’t agree with or particularly like. Thankfully, the court agrees that forcing students to pay into a system that treats their peers unfairly is a disservice to the entire Cal State-San Marcos student body and flatly unconstitutional. 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 Cal State-San Marcos to abide by the First Amendment.”
Above: Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life leads pro-life demonstrators as they cheer after the ruling for Hobby Lobby was announced outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on June 30, 2014.