When Norvilia Etienne, a student at Queens College in New York, set out to start a Students for Life chapter at her school, she followed the process carefully. And at Queens College that is quite an undertaking.
To join the over 100 groups already recognized at Queens, Norvilia had to recruit 14 students to join her group, fill out a long application, and make a PowerPoint presentation to the Campus Affairs Committee. Norvilia explained to the committee how her group would serve the pregnant and parenting women at Queens College: throwing baby showers, providing other practical assistance, and giving them information about abortion alternatives. They would also bring speakers to campus and educate their fellow students about the pro-life view.
Queens College Students for Life did everything that was asked of them. They had every reason to expect to be approved. But they were denied.
Queens College Students for Life presented before the Campus Affairs Committee in November 2016 along with a few other groups. While the other groups were immediately approved, however, the committee went silent on the pro-life group, refusing to give them any kind of answer. One week later, the committee finally responded. Queens College Students for Life was denied. On top of that, the committee gave no reason for the denial.
Official recognition of a student organization is necessary for it to have any voice on campus. And that’s especially true at Queens College. The rejection means the chapter:
- Cannot be listed as an official student organization alongside over 100 other groups (including pro-abortion groups);
- Cannot reserve meeting space on campus;
- Cannot receive student activity funding; and
- Cannot bring speakers to campus.
That’s why the First Amendment prohibits universities from denying registration to student groups – particularly without any justification. The Supreme Court protected this right four decades ago when anti-war student groups were the ones being excluded. Today, we are seeing this right disproportionately denied to pro-life, religious, and conservative groups.
Universities must make sure that those responsible for approving student groups have concrete guidelines, making decisions based on the facts and not on their own biases. But Queens College is ignoring these rights. By denying the group registration without explanation, they are highlighting a system that allows the committee to deny approval for any reason at all – including their opposition to its views.
And the problems don’t end there.
Queens College requires students to pay hundreds of dollars in student activity fees every year, allowing those funds to be distributed to student groups to express their messages and bring in their speakers. The Supreme Court has held that universities can only require students to pay these fees if they make sure the money is neutrally distributed to all groups. By limiting this funding to registered groups – and allowing exclusion of groups with disfavored views – Queens fails that test too.
Norvilia and Queens College Students for Life deserve better. Their classmates who deserve to hear a competing viewpoint deserve better. And so do we. Today’s students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, and voters. Queens College is teaching students that the First Amendment doesn’t matter.
Thankfully, Students for Life and Norvilia will not be bullied into giving up their freedoms. That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit against Queens College on their behalf.
School Officials Cannot Decide Which Viewpoints to Allow and Which to Exclude on Campus
We are so thankful for the students who are willing to stand up for their rights on campus. By doing so, they are helping to create a true “marketplace of ideas.”
Queens College is not the only public university to try to restrict student free speech, and it likely won’t be the last. To learn more about the legal rights of students on campus, download a FREE copy of our Student Rights Handbook.
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