(Image courtesy Pixabay)

(Image courtesy Pixabay)

The University of Florida is being sued for favoring some speech, giving liberal students generous budgets to promote their ideology on campus but restricting the 1st Amendment for conservatives.

The complaint was filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of the non-partisan Young Americans for Freedom.

The issue is that the school arbitrarily gives a budget to some student groups, but not others.

“State universities are uniquely expected to be a free marketplace of ideas, not an assembly line for one type of thought,” said ADF Legal Counsel Blake Meadows. “University of Florida administrators are limiting YAF members’ First Amendment freedoms by forcing them to pay into a system that funds opposing viewpoints.

“Worse yet, the university forces YAF to play an arbitrary, complex game of Chutes and Ladders, in the funding process, wherein the student group can continually be sent back to the beginning of the game at the sole discretion of the student government. The university also changed its rules to apparently single out and disqualify the conservative group from receiving funding for speakers’ fees and honoraria – making it even more difficult for the group to express its viewpoint on campus.”

The complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida is on behalf of the organization as well as two members, Sarah Long and Daniel Weldon. It names as defendants the university and its trustees and officials, including Morteza Hosseini, Thomas Kuntz, David Brandon, Ian Green, James Heavener, Leonard Johnson, Daniel O’Keefe, Rahul Patel, Marsha Powers, Jason Rosenberg, Robert Stern, Katherine Vogel Anderson and Anita Zucker.

The money allocation fight is over funding that is available from fees all students are ordered to pay.

Those “mandatory activity and service” fees are used for student groups, but allegedly not fairly.

“The university maintains two categories of registered student organizations – budgeted and non-budgeted. However, despite YAF being in existence for nearly two years, the university has denied YAF the right to be a budgeted organization and used the fees collected from YAF members to fund other similarly situated organizations that promote opposing viewpoints,” ADF explained.

“The university’s current policy allows it to favor popular views and exclude or dampen unpopular views.”

The legal action objects to the university decision to grant student government officials “free rein to allocate mandatory student fees back to certain student groups.”

“The current policy allows fees to be distributed using undefined and subjective criteria, and it fails to provide an appeals process if the organization’s request for funding is denied. Even if the student organization meets all published criteria to become budgeted, there is no guarantee or requirement that the group actually receives money because a student body treasurer and president can disqualify the group from funding at their whim,” the ADF said.

The money is substantial, with an excess of $1 million being handed out.

The filing charges that “budgeted student organizations can advocate for their own viewpoints by bringing in guest speakers, but unbudgeted student organizations cannot obtain funding to similarly express themselves.”

“Students don’t give up their constitutionally protected freedom to speak or associate when they set foot on a public college campus,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Today’s university students will be tomorrow’s voters and civic leaders. That’s why it’s so important that public colleges and universities exemplify the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students. All students are entitled to viewpoint-neutral access to and allocation of student activity fees – or they should get their money back.”

Said Mark Trammell, YAF associate general counsel, “The YAF chapter deserves the same equal access to university resources as every other student organization on campus. It is completely inappropriate for the University of Florida to treat students differently because of their beliefs. The purpose of today’s lawsuit is to remedy this inequity.”

“This action is based on the denial of plaintiffs’ fundamental rights to free speech and equal protection of the laws under the United States Constitution,” the filing said. “The polities and actions …. Are challenged on their face and as applied to plaintiffs. Defendants’ policies and actions have deprived and will continue to deprived plaintiffs of their parament rights and guarantees under the United States Constitution.”

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