The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student government president issued an order this month cutting off executive branch funding “to any individual, business, or organization” that advocates for pro-life causes.
Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression called on the UNC Chapel Hill student government to rescind the order and commit to distributing funds in a viewpoint-neutral manner.
“This is blatant viewpoint discrimination and a clear violation of fundamental First Amendment rights,” said FIRE attorney Zach Greenberg, who wrote today’s letter to the university. “A student government should represent the entire student body, not abuse its power by seeking to censor classmates with opposing views.”
On July 6, the UNC Chapel Hill Student Government executive branch issued an order prohibiting contracts or funding to “any individual, business, or organization which actively advocates to further limit by law access to reproductive healthcare.” It is unclear exactly what types of funding requests are subject to the executive branch’s unconstitutional and discriminatory prohibition. The student senate also handles funding requests and, to date, has not taken the same viewpoint discriminatory stance.
UNC Chapel Hill’s chapter of Students for Life, one of the country’s largest pro-life advocacy organizations, responded with a statement expressing dismay and urging Student Body President Taliajah Vann to rescind the order and live up to her campaign promise that she would “help every member of the student body.”
As a public institution, UNC Chapel Hill is bound by the First Amendment, which precludes the school from discriminating against student groups based on viewpoint. The student government is therefore constitutionally required to distribute funds in a viewpoint-neutral manner. Additionally, UNC Chapel Hill makes strong commitments to free speech, earning FIRE’s highest, “green light” rating. FIRE’s letter to Vann asks her administration to immediately rescind the unconstitutional order and commit to viewpoint neutrality.
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“UNC Chapel Hill’s student government cannot declare itself the arbiter of which opinions are acceptable,” said Greenberg. “We call on these student leaders to uphold their constituents’ free speech rights by doling out funds in a viewpoint-neutral manner.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE recognizes that colleges and universities play a vital role in preserving free thought within a free society. To this end, we place a special emphasis on defending the individual rights of students and faculty members on our nation’s campuses, including freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience.