Conservative campus groups couldn't catch a break last year
- One of the most common manifestations of liberal bias on college campuses is the denial of status or recognition to conservative student groups.
- This is sometimes justified by arbitrary rule enforcement, or made possible by giving student governements complete control over group approval.
Conservative student groups on America's college campuses had a rough go in 2019, evidenced by the multiple instances on which Campus Reform reported where those groups were denied registered student organization status for some head-scratching reasons. In some cases, these groups eventually gained the recognition they sought, but only after a long, hard-fought battle. In other cases, these groups are still fighting to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Here are the top five instances of conservative groups being denied in 2019:
Santa Clara University’s student government denied the schools Young Americans for Freedom(YAF) chapter because it claimed that YAF’s “platform on ‘freedom of speech’ has the potential to cause harm to other members of the SCU community."
SCU’s student government had previously rejected the YAF chapter once already but the group appealed the decision.
“We have many leftists, closed-minded senators who voted against our club because they don’t believe in allowing people of different perspectives to be heard on campus-even though their actions are in direct violation of University rules, California Law, and The First Amendment of the Constitution,” SCU YAF Chairman Quin Ebert told Campus Reform.
“In regard to legal immigration, we do have plenty of students on our [campus] who are undocumented and may see your club as a threat because of you on legal immigration,” student senator Sahil Sagar said.
SCU recognizes two other conservative clubs: College Republicans and Turning Point USA. Student senator Ciara Moezidis said that granting recognition to another conservative club at SCU might result in a “surplus of conservatives.”
Nicole Neily, president of free speech nonprofit Speech First, told Campus Reform that the SCU YAF “deserves kudos-they stood up for themselves calmly and articulately and convinced a jury of peers of the validity of their position.”
Duke University’s student government senate voted to deny recognition to Christian student group Young Life because of its requirements that would not allow LGBT members to be on the group’s leadership team.
Rachel Baber, Young Life leader for Durham-Chapel Hill said the organization has an “anti-discrimination clause” and would not stop LGBT people from joining the organization. According to the student newspaper, the group stated that “we do not in any way wish to exclude persons who engage in sexual misconduct or who practice a homosexual lifestyle from being recipients of God’s grace and mercy as expressed in Jesus Christ, we do, however, believe that such persons are not to serve as staff or volunteers in the mission and work of Young Life.”
Student senator Tommy Hessel argued that if Young Life changed its policies to conform with the university's nondiscriminatory policy, it might get recognized. Baber told Campus Reform that Young Life does not plan on appealing the student government’s decision.
Williams College council in Massachusetts rejected pro-Israel group Williams Initiative for Israel's application to become a registered student organization group, seemingly due to the group’s politics and failure to take a public stance against the “occupation." The vote stood at 13-8 and some students who opposed signed a letter that included, “complicity in [Israeli] state violence” in regard to the opposition.
“From our perspective, there are ways of supporting Israeli statehood that doesn’t support the occupation or human rights abuses against Palestinians, but there are ways of doing that that definitely do,” Williams student Joseph Moore told The Record.
Supporters of WIFI stated that those opposed to the group “celebrate the facts that such groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine have been granted RSO status and that students who believe in the group’s mission have been given a platform to support their cause…”
A U.S. Department of Education spokesperson confirmed with Campus Reform that its Office of Civil Rights has launched a federal investigation into Williams College for “possible discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, including shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics…”
David Bernstein, George Mason law professor told Campus Reform that he filed a complaint with the department “because [he] read about the incident at Williams, which struck me as obvious and blatant discrimination against Jewish students at Williams College…”
A federal court sided with a pro-life student group at California State University-San Marcos after it accused the school of discrimination by the disbursement of student fees. Students for Life of CSU-SM, along with Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a federal lawsuit against the university in 2017 after it was denied $500, funded by mandatory student fees, to host a pro-life speech.
The school claimed that funding was not available for the group to host a speaker, but in the same year, it granted $296,498 from the same fund to the Gender Equity Center and the LGBTQA Pride Center for speakers and activities; making up more than 21 percent of the total mandatory student fees.
The federal judge ruled that the student disbursement process at CSU-SM was not “viewpoint-neutral,” and unconstitutionally mistreated “unpopular viewpoints” and also ruled that the Gender Equity Center and LGBTQA Pride Center may not receive funding “until specific and detailed standards guiding decision-making [are] adopted.”
The student government at the University of Scranton denied official recognition to students attempting to form a Turning Point USA chapter. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education then formally accused the school of participating in viewpoint discrimination.
When FIRE wrote to the school about concerns regarding the preservation of “freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of the individual,” the school insisted that "these personal freedoms must be balanced against our mutual responsibility for supporting and nurturing a community whose ministry of education is informed by the vision of life contained in both the Gospel and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius."
"We ask again that you identify a viewpoint-neutral reason for the rejection or, in the alternative, a substantive explanation as to how viewpoint discrimination is compatible with the promises Scranton makes to its students," FIRE wrote in its second letter to the university.
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