First Amendment Library:
James M. Smart Jr.


The University of Missouri-Kansas City was founded in 1929, the university has an enrollment of approximately 14,000 students. The school allows over 100 recognized non-religious student groups to meet on its campus. All students pay a $41 activity fee (1978-1979) per semester to support this privilege. UMKC is a part of the University of Missouri system, which is governed by the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri. Defendant Gary E. Widmar is a member of the Board of Curators. Cornerstone is a fundamentalist evangelical Christian student-led organization. The group is registered with the university and met on campus from 1973 to 1977. Plaintiffs were all active members of the organization at the time this action was first filed. The parties disagree about whether allowing Cornerstone to have access to university facilities would be a government endorsement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause. The Establishment Clause prohibits government speech endorsing religion while private speech in support of religion is protected by the Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses. With respect to equal access to limited public forums for religious groups, the Supreme Court typically finds no violation of the Establishment Clause where there is little concern that the public would perceive an endorsement of religion by the government entity and where any benefit to religion is merely incidental.