University of Rhode Island: student government abandons discriminatory funding policy

Category: Cases, Religious Liberty
Schools: University of Rhode Island

In May 2018, FIRE wrote to the University of Rhode Island’s Student Senate on behalf of a coalition of student organizations — including the College Democrats and Republicans, as well as URI campus chapters of BridgeUSA, the ACLU, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy — that had been denied student activity fee funding by their student government because they were deemed “political.” The Student Senate maintained policies that allowed senators to deny funding to organizations they perceived as having a religious mission or supporting a political candidate. The Student Senate inaccurately claimed that providing these organizations with funding would jeopardize the student government’s status as “a nontaxable nonprofit organization.” FIRE’s letter explained why the student government’s nonprofit status does not prevent its funding political or religious groups, and why its policies and practices led to arbitrary funding decisions based on senators’ perceptions of each group.

After receiving an insufficient response from the Student Senate, FIRE wrote to URI President David Dooley in September 2018, promising to intervene on behalf of unfunded student organizations if they were again denied funding based on the content of their message or mission. On October 3, 2018, the Student Senate voted to remove the barriers to funding for religious and political organizations, and to stop arbitrarily categorizing groups as political or religious in nature.