American University: Recognition Denied to Political Student Organization
In the fall of 2015, American University’s (AU) Office of University Center & Student Activities denied a request by the group “Students for Rand”—which supports the candidacy of Senator Rand Paul—to receive recognition as an official student organization. The denial cited the “national election campaign focus” of the group and AU’s obligation to comply with federal law governing tax-exempt nonprofit institutions. Shortly thereafter, the group was told by the same office that they could not clipboard in support of Paul’s campaign on AU’s Quad because such activity was prohibited by the school’s solicitation policy. FIRE wrote to AU, arguing that its obligations as a tax-exempt organization do not mean it must prevent partisan political expression by student organizations and that its overbroad interpretation of its solicitation policy to prohibit core political speech could not be squared with the university’s own guidelines on freedom of expression. AU responded to FIRE, committing to allow partisan political groups to gain official recognition and to work with Students for Rand to complete their application.