First Amendment Library:
Susan K. Ullman


The University of Wisconsin-Madison requires its students to pay an annual fee, in addition to tuition, that is used to support an array of student services and organizations. Three University of Wisconsin law students challenged the fee system in 1996 as unconstitutional. The students, all Christians, said it violated their free-speech and religious liberty rights for the university to funnel their money to groups they oppose on moral grounds. Both a federal district court and federal appeals court ruled that the fee system violated the students' free-speech rights. In 1977, the high court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Bd. Of Education,that union members could "prevent the Union's spending a part of their required service fees to contribute to political candidates and to express political views unrelated to its duties as exclusive bargaining representative." The three Wisconsin students argued that the university must grant them the choice not to fund student groups that engage in political and ideological expression offensive to their beliefs.