Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against California State University–San Marcos officials on behalf of a pro-life student organization and its campus president, Nathan Apodaca, who are prevented from bringing pro-life speakers to campus under the university’s discriminatory funding policies.
The university funds pro-abortion and other favored views with almost $300,000 in mandatory fees charged of Mr. Apodaca and all students, but denied Students for Life $500 in funding to host a visiting speaker on “Abortion and Human Equality” to provide a contrasting view.
“Universities should encourage all students to participate in the free exchange of ideas, not concoct elaborate funding schemes to award their favored few with first-class status while denying even economy class to opposing views,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “California State University–San Marcos has spared no expense to fund the advocacy of its preferred student advocacy groups but denies funding for speakers from Students for Life and similar student groups. The result is a two-track system by which the University compels some students to fund the speech of their peers with whom they may disagree, but prohibit those same students from using these funds to present a different viewpoint. Under the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, courts have repeatedly rejected unfair and discriminatory policies—like those found at Cal State–San Marcos—as unconstitutional.”
CSU–San Marcos has more than 100 recognized student groups. Although the university says that it prohibits any of those groups from spending activity fee grants on expenses to bring speakers to campus, the Gender Equity Center and the LGBQTA Pride Center enjoy preferential status, and as such, are exempt from that rule and the standard $500 cap. In the 2016-2017 academic year, those two “centers” received a combined $296,498 for speech and expressive activities —more than 21 percent of all mandatory student activity fees the programming board received for that year—compared to only $38,629 for the more than 100 other groups combined (less than 3 percent). This year the GEC hosted the ABC’s of LGBTQ: Queer Women and the so-called “Pleasure Party.” The LGBQTA Pride Center hosted “Kink 101”—which was an interactive workshop and discussion of bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism—and fetish-style practices. These and the centers’ other advocacy events were funded exclusively from mandatory student fees.
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Earlier this year, Students for Life applied for a $500 “Leadership Funding” grant to host pro-life speaker and University of North Carolina–Wilmington Professor Mike Adams to provide an alternative view. Student groups like SFLA may receive only $500 per semester.
Although Apodaca, like other Students for Life members, paid the same mandatory student activity fees that all students pay as a condition of enrollment, he and his pro-life peers are denied equal access to those fees to bring Adams to campus. Instead, the Gender Equity Center and the LGBQTA Pride Center receive the lion share of funding available for student advocacy and may use those funds to bring speakers to advocate for these officially preferred views.
“While touting a community that values ‘individual and cultural diversity, and respect[s] multiple perspectives,’ Cal State–San Marcos is not practicing what it preaches,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, commissioners, and voters. But at Cal-State San Marcos they are learning that government can force citizens to pay for advocacy of the views it decides shall be orthodox and effectively exclude competing views. There can be no marketplace of ideas where the government simply funds its favored views.”
“This is yet another example of a university using their power, along with student fees, to restrict speech they don’t agree with or particularly like, giving credence to the emerging fact that tolerance does not apply to pro-life or conservative speech,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “Forcing students to pay into a system that treats their peers unfairly is a disservice to the entire Cal State-San Marcos student body and their educational experience. Pro-life students should have every opportunity available to them that pro-abortion students have and anything less is a failure on the part of Cal State-San Marcos to abide by the First Amendment.”
Daniel R. Watkins of Watkins & Letofsky, LLP is among the nearly 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF and serves as local counsel in the lawsuit, Students for Life at California State University–San Marcos v. Abrego, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. ADF has prevailed in similar lawsuits against the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Texas A&M University.
Students for Life of America is the nation’s largest pro-life youth organization and currently serves more than 1,040 groups in colleges, high schools, and medical schools across the U.S.