Free speech protections don’t go away once you step foot onto a public university.
Yet, all too often, administrators are neglecting that simple principle.
That’s what happened at University of Nebraska’s flagship campus at Lincoln. A Christian group on campus, Ratio Christi, had applied for submitted a request for $1,500 from a pool of money funded by mandatory student fees that all student groups are eligible to access.
The event was to feature Christian philosopher Dr. Robert Audi and explore the question, “Is Belief in God Rational Given the Evils of This World?” Ratio Christi’s application was denied, however, because of what the university deemed the event’s “ideological nature.”
Along with receiving a vague definition of “ideological,” which the university defined as anything “based on a group of ideals or beliefs”—a definition that would also describe an overwhelming majority of student fees-funded activities—Ratio Christi was also told they could access student funds only if they would “provide another spokesperson with a different ideological perspective” at the same event.
The University was violating Ratio Christi’s First Amendment rights twice over. First, by withholding funds it regularly allocates to progressive campus groups, a clear case of viewpoint discrimination. Second, by forcing a Christian group to fund a speaker who would rebut Christian beliefs, a clear case of compelled speech.
With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, Ratio Christi filed a lawsuit challenging the university’s discriminatory censorship and unlawful attempt to compel speech.
While some questions, like the age-old one Ratio Christi invited Dr. Audi to explore, are rife with complexity and nuance, whether a public university can restrict student groups’ freedom to express their views on that, or any other topic, is something that should never be up for debate.
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