University of Arizona Students for Life Group Recognized After Legal Action Taken

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 21, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

University of Arizona Students for Life Group Recognized After Legal Action Taken

by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 21
, 2010

Tucson, AZ ( — After the pro-life student group at the University of Arizona was forced to contact a legal group for help, officials at the college reversed course and granted Students for Life official recognition. The decision gives the group equal access to university resources that otherwise would have been denied.

Students for Life saw its application denied by the University of Arizona’s student government because the group’s proposed constitution required members to support pro-life principles.

After the student government denied recognition to his group, SFL founder Jeremiah Lange went to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.

"FIRE is pleased that the University of Arizona has recognized its obligation to uphold the First Amendment right to freedom of association guaranteed to its students," FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley said in a statement obtained.

"When students form groups around shared beliefs, they exercise a core constitutional right. A diversity of belief-based groups enhances the marketplace of ideas on campus," he said.

FIRE asked the U.S. Supreme Court to acknowledge this right of student groups to freely associate in a friend-of-the-court brief in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, which was argued before the high court on Monday.

UA’s application procedure for new student groups requires submission of a proposed constitution and a nondiscrimination statement.

Lange submitted an application for SFL that satisfied the written guidelines of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona (ASUA), the student government. SFL also included a requirement that "member[s] must agree to stand by the princip[le]s that life is sacred and that the intentional killing of human beings through abortion, euthanasia, and murder, and all forms of eugenics are morally reprehensible."

Officials denied the application on February 25 in an email to Lange.

In it, ASUA Club and Organization Standards Board Director Jarrett Benkendorfer informed Lange that "organizations cannot require participants to fulfill or abide by specific principles."

Benkendorfer said the belief-based requirement was "unnecessary" because "students holding shared views with your club will be attracted to your organization."

FIRE responded with a March 15 letter to University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton.

The legal group pointed out that no ASUA regulations specified that student groups were prohibited from requiring voting members to share the group’s organizing beliefs, contrary to Benkendorfer’s allegations.

FIRE informed Shelton that preventing Lange and SFL from making belief-based membership choices was a denial of the group’s First Amendment right to freedom of association. As the Supreme Court made clear in Roberts v. United States Jaycees (1984), "freedom of association plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate," it noted.

In a March 29 response, Arizona Student Unions Executive Director Bill Shiba avoided answering FIRE’s constitutional concerns, but asked Lange to reapply.

On April 1, FIRE again wrote President Shelton, noting the inadequacy of Shiba’s reply and asking that Shelton "personally ensure that ASUA respects the constitutional right of UA students to assemble with others around shared beliefs."

Shiba responded on April 14 and informed FIRE that SFL’s application had been accepted.

"Public universities like the University of Arizona cannot deny students their First Amendment right to meet with others of like mind to advance a message of their own choosing," said Will Creeley, FIRE’s Director of Legal and Public Advocacy.

"The university’s initial denial of recognition to Students for Life is a troubling example of what will happen across the country if the Supreme Court permits public universities to render freedom of association an empty right on campus. Fortunately, the University of Arizona has done the right thing by recognizing that campus life benefits from hosting a multitude of groups expressing a multitude of viewpoints," he said.

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