CUNY Queens College Faces Lawsuit After Denying Pro-Life Student Group Official Status

State   Alliance Defending Freedom   Jan 25, 2017   |   5:02PM    Queens, NY

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Queens College officials on behalf of a student organization denied official recognition and its benefits. Queens College is a part of the City University of New York system.

Last fall, Queens College Students for Life and two other campus groups applied for “registered” status, seeking to join more than 100 student organizations—including pro-abortion clubs—which are allowed to reserve meeting space, invite speakers, and receive funding from mandatory student activity fees. Officials delayed and then rejected Students for Life’s application without explanation but approved the applications of at least two other groups immediately.

“Public universities are supposed to provide a marketplace of ideas, but that market can’t function properly if the heavy hand of government promotes some views over others,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Yet that is precisely what Queens College has done in excluding Students for Life from campus. The college’s unconstitutional actions treat these pro-life students as second-class, denying them meeting space, funding, and other benefits necessary to form a club and fully participate on campus.”

The college gave unlimited power to the Campus Affairs Committee to decide whether a group should be granted official recognition and whether it may receive funding. The lawsuit, Queens College Students for Life v. Members of the City University of New York Board of Trustees, points out that this sweeping authority allows them to deny recognition and funding for any reason, including unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. ADF attorneys explain that public universities cannot refuse to approve a student group without justification and must ensure recognition and student activity funding are approved in a viewpoint-neutral manner.

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Because of Queens College’s discriminatory practices, Students for Life members must continue to fund, through the college’s mandatory student activity fees, groups that support abortion but cannot access funds from those fees, which exceed $1,200 per student over eight semesters, for themselves.

“While touting a ‘broad range of intellectual and social communities,’ Queens College is excluding Students for Life” said Mattox. “Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, commissioners, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students, and why it should disturb everyone that Queens College and many other colleges are communicating to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter.”

“Too frequently we see that public colleges and universities feel they can deny recognition or funding to a student group just because officials don’t agree with the viewpoint of those students,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins. “Queens College is playing favorites while stifling free speech, a typical response of abortion advocates who prefer to silence opposition rather than have a free exchange of ideas.”

Students for Life of America is the nation’s largest pro-life youth organization and currently serves 1,031 groups in college, high schools, and medical schools across the U.S. Joseph Ruta, one of more than 3,100 private attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel for the club in the case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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