We’re pleased to note an important victory for the free speech rights and freedom of association of religious and political student organizations at Texas A&M University. Thanks to a settlement (PDF) reached with Texas A&M, a lawsuit brought by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of the Texas Aggie Conservatives has ensured that religious and political groups at the public institution will enjoy the same access to student fee funding as other student groups.
ADF filed the lawsuit in federal court in June after Texas A&M denied the Texas Aggie Conservatives’ request for funding to bring a speaker to campus. The university’s stated reason for the denial was that funds "cannot be approved for recognized organizations with a classification of social and political issues."
Now, ADF reports, Texas A&M has agreed to treat such student organizations the same as all other groups when it comes to access to student fee funding, and the university will no longer bar them from obtaining funding for their activities and events. In addition, according to ADF, university policy will now include "specific criteria in evaluating funding applications, as well as an appeal process for groups denied funding."
We’re happy to see this important victory for student rights. As explained in our Guide to Student Fees, Funding, and Legal Equality on Campus, the law on this issue is clear: the Supreme Court has twice ruled that, under the First Amendment, public universities must dole out funding from mandatory student fees on a viewpoint-neutral basis and may not use student groups’ expression as a basis for making funding decisions. Too often, however, universities make the head-scratching decision to do just that. Just because student speech is religious, political, or otherwise ideological in nature does not mean that it should be treated differently.
FIRE has had to intervene in several such cases on behalf of student groups with political and religious identities, including at Northern Illinois University, Northern Virginia Community College, and, most recently, Michigan State University. It’s disappointing to us how often universities-and their agents in student government-get this completely wrong, despite the clarity in the law.
It’s unfortunate that it took a lawsuit before Texas A&M did the right thing with respect to the Texas Aggie Conservatives. But hopefully, student groups’ First Amendment rights at the university will be better off for the struggle.