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GOP group protests apology demands over whites-only scholarship

April 18, 2007

College Republicans at the University of Rhode Island are fighting a demand that they apologize for sponsoring a satirical scholarship for white, heterosexual men.

A committee of the school’s student Senate has threatened to cut off money and other perks from the College Republicans for allegedly violating an anti-discrimination clause in the Senate’s rules, according to URI officials. The Senate committee also has asked to review the College Republicans’ activities.

An apology from the group would end most of the disciplinary actions.

The young Republicans argue their “scholarship” advertised last year wasn’t misleading or discriminatory because they never seriously considered distributing any cash—something understood by all the applicants.

“Not one person who applied has approached us saying, ‘Listen, where’s my $100,’” said Ryan Bilodeau, 21, the chairman of the GOP group. He said the student government’s demands infringe on his free speech rights.

“We don’t think because we’re obeying the First Amendment that we should be excluded,” he said.

The entire student Senate is scheduled to vote next Wednesday on a proposal to decertify the College Republicans as a student group, which would cut them off from money and other school resources.

To fight that effort, the college GOP has enlisted help from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia-based civil rights group for students.

“As bad as it may be to tell students what they cannot say, it is still worse to tell them what they must say,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in a written statement.

University President Robert Carothers wrote a letter this month warning the student Senate’s president against forcing the Republicans to unwillingly make public statements, said Tom Dougan, the university’s vice president for student affairs. His office will wait until after the vote before intervening.

“We don’t believe anyone’s First Amendment rights should be violated,” Dougan said. “In our opinion, that’s exactly what’s happening.”
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Schools: University of Rhode Island Cases: University of Rhode Island: Student Senate Attempts to Compel Speech