Student Group Achieves First Amendment Win

Student Group Achieves First Amendment Win

Ratio Christi, a Christian student group focusing on evangelism and apologetics, has favorably settled a lawsuit with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) that the group’s attorneys called “a victory for free speech.”

In January 2021, the Ratio Christi chapter at UNL applied for $1,500 in student activity funding—something that recognized student organizations may do once every two years. The group planned to host a lecture by Robert Audi, a respected Christian philosopher who formerly had taught at UNL for nearly 30 years—including a stint as chair of the philosophy department.

Audi’s topic was “Is Belief in God Rational Given the Evils of This World? A Christian Philosopher Responds to the Most Popular Argument Against God.”

The university’s program council rejected Ratio Christi’s application for funds, stating that such funds could not be used to pay for “speakers of a political and ideological nature.” It added that the funds could be granted only if “another spokesperson with a different ideological perspective” spoke at the same event.

In a subsequent email, the council said it wouldn’t fund the event because of “its Christian ideological nature” and “Christian perspective,” and it was the council’s “job to make sure all … ideological perspectives and beliefs are being considered, not just Christianity.”

Ratio Christi held its event anyway, with Audi cutting his honorarium in half and Ratio Christi and its members funding the event themselves.

In October 2021, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, Ratio Christi brought suit against UNL in U.S. District Court. The complaint pointed out that not only was UNL’s policy unconstitutional on several counts, but the university failed to follow its own alleged standards, spending “hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to pay for speakers and other events promoting political and ideological viewpoints on topics like sexual orientation, ‘gender identity,’ ‘reproductive justice,’ social justice, police reform, and political activism. And Defendants do not present opposing viewpoints.”

This month, the court entered a partial judgment against UNL for failing to distribute money from mandatory student fees to student organizations in a fair, viewpoint-neutral manner. The parties settled the remaining claims after the university revised its policy on how it distributes student fees to student organizations “to promote the availability of diverse viewpoints to UNL students” and to ensure that allocation of funding is done in a “viewpoint neutral manner.”

As part of the settlement, the university paid Ratio Christi $1,500 and also paid $25,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

“Today’s college students are the future leaders of our country, which is why it is critical that universities model our First Amendment values,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gregg Walters. “It’s the duty of university officials to ensure student organizations are treated fairly and objectively, not blatantly discriminated against because of a club’s particular religious or ideological viewpoint as happened to Ratio Christi. We’re pleased the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has taken this necessary step to protect freedom of speech on its campus.”

Photo of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus: Roy Johnson/Alamy Stock Photo

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