Will East Carolina University’s and UC Santa Barbara’s Student Governments Keep Discriminating on the Basis of Viewpoint?

By May 6, 2011

FIRE has asked East Carolina University Student Government Association President Tremayne Smith (or his successorthe university’s term is ending imminently) to make it clear that SGA will no longer discriminate on the basis of viewpoint when allocating student activity fee funds.

As Peter wrote last month, SGA abused its discretion when it denied most of the funding that the student group Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) had requested for a Hemp Fest event. SGA Treasurer Justin Davis told YAL:

[T]he nature of the event is combustible insofar as the Student Government Association’s reputation is concerned.  Appropriations will not risk tarnishing SGA by funding the portion of the request determined necessary for the purchase of hemp products; purchasing these with Appropriations-recommended dollars is hereby expressly prohibited.

No student government at a public university, however, may reduce or deny student activity fee funding to a student group because of its viewpoint or because its expression might trouble, offend, or embarrass the student government or individual members. Such action against a student group would violate the group’s First Amendment rights, which public universities are bound to uphold.

East Carolina University’s Student Government Association isn’t the only one that needs such an education in viewpoint discrimination. Indeed, this is a First Amendment lesson that the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) Student Government must learn in a hurry. According to UCSB’s Daily Nexus:

The Associated Students Finance Board [...] denied College Republicans’ request for $2,000 to host an event due to the controversial reputation of its proposed speaker. [...]

Following a lengthy debate, the organization deemed funding for the College Republicans’ event, featuring David Horowitz, an inappropriate use of student funds.

Finance board member Ahmed Naguib recalled Horowitz’s offensive and discriminatory behavior during his last visit to campus three years ago when he accused the Muslim Students Association of being affiliated with al-Qaeda and likened Muslims to Nazis.

"As a member of Muslim Student Association, I’m familiar with the comments that Horowitz has made," Naguib said. "He incites hate and makes students feel very uncomfortable. I agree that people have the right to freedom of speech, but I don’t believe he has that right if it’s threatening students’ safety. He made several racist remarks about Arabs and accused people of terrorism last time he visited."

If the account in the Daily Nexus is true, this decision was unconstitutional and must immediately be remedied. FIRE will let you know what happens next.

Schools: East Carolina University Cases: East Carolina University: Viewpoint Discrimination Against Student Organization