EMU originally denied student activity fees to the group based on its “political or ideological” views, but officials have now agreed to revise university policy and remove the ban on funding for groups with such perspectives, especially since the university had not consistently applied the policy.
“Universities should recognize the constitutionally protected freedoms of pro-life student groups just as they do for all other campus organizations,” said Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker. “We commend Eastern Michigan University for revising its policy and giving all student organizations equal access to mandatory student fees.”
In February, Students for Life at Eastern Michigan University applied for student fee funding to host a pro-life display on campus called the Genocide Awareness Project, a traveling photo-mural exhibit which compares the contemporary genocide of abortion to historically recognized forms of genocide. EMU denied the request because they deemed the photos of the aborted babies and the event as too controversial, biased, and one-sided.
In March, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Students for Life filed a lawsuit, explaining that the First Amendment “prohibits content and viewpoint discrimination in a public university’s allocation of mandatory student fee funding.” The suit explained that “the government may not regulate speech based on policies that permit arbitrary, discriminatory, and overzealous enforcement.”
The lawsuit noted that EMU officials had been inconsistent with their funding guidelines and had allocated the same funds to political and ideological speech discussing “welfare rights, women’s and abortion rights, religion, student activist training, and race-conscious causes, just to name a few.”
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In response to the suit, EMU agreed to fund the student organization’s event, change the student fee policy, bring its funding practices in line with U.S. Supreme Court precedent, and pay Students for Life’s attorneys’ fees.
Steven M. Jentzen, one of nearly 2,300 attorneys allied with Alliance Defending Freedom, was co-counsel in the lawsuit, Students for Life at Eastern Michigan University v. Parker, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.