Calif. college pays up after pro-life group alleges viewpoint discrimination

A student group has settled with CSU-San Marcos after the college denied a Students for Life chapter a $500 stipend for a speaker.

The student group alleged in the lawsuit that the college engaged in viewpoint discrimination.

A California college has settled a legal dispute with a Students for Life chapter that not only cast a light on free speech at the college but has also prompted policy changes.

California State University-San Marcos has settled a long-standing lawsuit filed in 2017 by then-Students for Life chapter president Nathan Apodaca regarding the college’s student fee policies, according to a press release from Alliance Defending Freedom.

In the settlement agreement, the college has agreed to pay $240,000 in attorneys’ fees along with a refund of Apodaca’s student fees and $3,000 to the Students for Life chapter. The college also agreed to change its policy in regards to the allocation of student fees to prevent future discrimination in the allocation of funds.

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“I am very pleased with the outcome of the case. This is a win for everyone,” Nathan Apodaca, the former Students for Life president at the time, told Campus Reform.

In addition, the university highlights that all allocation decisions must be viewpoint “neutral” in nature, meaning that the decisions of fund allocation cannot be based on a group’s viewpoint. The new policy also instructed the establishment of an appeal process that would allow a review of a decision to deny funding or restrict access to funds.

“We embrace the notion that universities must be a marketplace of ideas, and that this is essential to the educational process as students critically examine new ideas, learning from the perspectives of others,” the San Marcos campus and the CSU chancellor office told Campus Reform in a joint statement.

The university said that while the court had found no evidence that the group was discriminated against, they did admit that the court had found that the funding process was “not adequately identified and documented” and that the commitment to not discriminate based on viewpoint needed to be expressly set out in the policy writing.

“Overall the process was a collaborative effort, by both sides, to strengthen viewpoint neutrality at this very diverse campus,” the statement concluded.

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As reported by Campus Reform in 2017, the lawsuit had previously been filed after the school had denied a $500 stipend for the group to bring a pro-life speaker onto campus. At the same time, the school was found to have given nearly $300,000 to the school’s gender equity center and the LGBTQ Pride Center on campus.

In the initial 43-page lawsuit, ADF alleged that the college’s original student fee policy granted administrators “unbridled discretion” to deny students fees through a lack of a “viewpoint-neutral” policy in allocating funds. The ADF alleged that the policy was a violation of the group’s first and fourteenth amendment rights and promoted viewpoint discrimination against the group.

“When Students for Life was denied funding to bring in a pro-life speaker, I was told that the policy was that funding was not available for any speakers,” Apodaca said about the event. “I found this odd because I knew that student fees were actually going to fund speakers through a system where the Student Government had discretion to fund or deny speaker requests.”

Apodaca added that when he went to the student government for funding, the group was rejected as well.

“If student groups are funded with student fees, it should be done on an equal basis, regardless of the viewpoint,” Apodaca said.

Apodaca also expressed optimism that the court case would have a profound impact on speech policies on campus universities in the future, stating “other schools are now getting the message that when you try to restrict the exercise of Constitutional Rights, like the freedom of speech, there will be consequences” and served as a reminder that universities are meant to be a marketplace of ideas and “not turn it into an intolerant assembly-line for only one viewpoint.”

“We are now looking into having our speaker come out to give his presentation to the student body—using the funds from the settlement,” Apodcaca added. “For all its talk about promoting diversity and inclusion without regard to belief, the University will now finally have the chance to practice what it preaches.”

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