Wichita State University students participate in a free speech event.
WICHITA, Kan., April 14, 2017 — An embattled student group at Wichita State University is finally free to engage in on-campus activism as a registered student organization. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the Wichita State University Student Government overturned the Student Government Association’s unconstitutional decision to deny recognition to Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian student group, because of the group’s belief in First Amendment principles.
The unanimous decision by the SGA’s judicial branch came less than a week after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote to Wichita State President John Bardo to demand that he immediately reverse the SGA’s decision. FIRE asked Bardo to instruct the student government that it cannot engage in viewpoint-based discrimination against prospective student groups.
In the wake of FIRE’s letter, Wichita State Vice President for Student Affairs Teri Hall filed a complaint with Wichita State’s Supreme Court and argued to the SGA that “[b]y not passing that resolution, you violated everything you’re supposed to stand for as Student Government. You talk about not discriminating, and you discriminated against [YAL].”
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court of the Wichita State University Student Government did the right thing and reversed the student government’s unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination,” said Ari Cohn, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “Hopefully, the senate learned the lesson that it cannot unilaterally violate the Constitution without being held accountable.”
On April 5, the SGA Senate considered student Maria Church’s application to form a campus chapter of YAL, which has more than 900 campus chapters nationwide. During the meeting, SGA senators questioned Church about the prospective organization’s political positions, the issues on which it would focus, its affiliations with YAL chapters on other campuses, and the group’s views on the First Amendment.
After Church left the meeting, the senators debated whether to approve YAL’s application. Several senators opposed recognizing the group because of its stance on free speech issues and because YAL chapters at other schools have invited controversial speakers to campus. Following the debate, the SGA Senate voted against recognizing YAL.
In an April 7 letter to Bardo, FIRE wrote that the SGA’s decision directly conflicts with longstanding First Amendment jurisprudence. FIRE noted that when a public university delegates its authority over student organizations to a student government, it is obligated to ensure that its agent does not violate the constitutional principles that bind the public university.
In overturning the SGA’s decision to not recognize YAL, Wichita State’s Supreme Court held that “[t]he reasoning of the Senate to not recognize a local student organization for alleged actions of other national members of the organization does not give the Senate the power or jurisdiction to deny them RSO status.”
“There seems to be a shift in campus culture,” said Church. “While the student politicians who voted against this are standing their ground, we’ve had people from all political persuasions reach out to us offering support. We are encouraged by this small win, but there is still work to be done. At Young Americans for Liberty, we are committed to fighting for the First Amendment on campuses across the country.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.
Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org