Texas A&M University (TAMU) cannot seem to keep itself out of the spotlight, and once again it’s for all the wrong reasons. As Torch readers will surely recall, two weeks ago FIRE wrote a letter to Texas A&M University–San Antonio (a branch campus) after it dismissed an adjunct professor mere hours after her criticism of the university was published in a local newspaper. Now it appears the university is violating the First Amendment rights of its students.
On June 19, 2012, the Alliance Defense Fund filed a federal lawsuit against TAMU and several of its administrators on behalf of the Texas Aggie Conservatives (TAC), a student organization at TAMU’s flagship College Station campus. According to the complaint (PDF), the organization was denied funding to bring conservative speaker Star Parker to campus to discuss "poverty, race, and social justice issues" in America.
The lawsuit alleges that TAC was denied the funding because TAMU "excludes religious and political student organizations from receiving Student Organization Funding for their expressive activities while it provides the same funding to a broad variety of other student organizations." Indeed, the lawsuit further alleges that TAMU’s practices are anything but viewpoint neutral, for the NAACP, the Colombian Student Association, and the Muslim Student Association received student funding, while funding requests from TAC and the Christian student organization Brothers Under Christ were denied. If these accusations are true, TAMU is engaging in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.
TAMU is just the latest example of a university that has discriminated against a student organization because of its political or religious nature. In December 2010, FIRE successfully advocated for the student group Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) at Northern Illinois University, where the Student Senate had denied recognition to SSDP because of its characterization as a "social advocacy group." The university administration reversed the Student Senate’s decision and administratively recognized SSDP. Here’s hoping that TAMU similarly abandons its unconstitutional policy denying religious and political student organizations equal access to funding. FIRE will keep an eye on this situation and keep you posted as it develops.