Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing two college students filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Michigan State University officials for forcing the students to pay fees to advance political messages that the officials favor and that conflict with the deeply held beliefs of the students, who are required to pay the fees.
Amy Wisner, a professor of marketing at MSU’s Broad College of Business operating under the guidance and approval of the business college’s interim dean, compelled each of her 600 students to pay a $99 membership fee to join an outside progressive political advocacy organization she controlled. She then donated the proceeds of those fees to external groups—including Planned Parenthood—that engage in political advocacy that is antithetical to college students Nathan Barbieri and Nolan Radomski’s sincerely held religious beliefs.
“University professors can’t force students to finance and support political advocacy groups that express messages they disagree with. Nathan and Nolan simply want to get a business degree without being compelled to pay membership fees that will be donated to Planned Parenthood or support speech that directly contradicts their religious beliefs,” said ADF Legal Counsel Logan Spena. “Michigan State officials have violated the First Amendment and federal civil rights laws by authorizing professors to force students to support speech antithetical to their deepest values and faith.”
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In the spring of this year, Barbieri and Radomski enrolled in Wisner’s course, “Business Communication,” which is a required course for them to complete their undergraduate business degree. ADF attorneys explain in their lawsuit that Wisner designed her course to promote her political views. On her syllabus under “course requirements,” Wisner required each of her 600 students to purchase “The Rebellion Community membership.” As the syllabus explained, “The Rebellion Community… is a global social learning community with a private space dedicated to this course.” Once students paid the $99 subscription fee online, they saw a statement that said, “Your membership fees are used to (1) pay for use of the technology and (2) pay guest speakers, educators, and facilitators. Your professor does not receive any financial compensation from your membership fees as that would be a conflict of interest.”
The lawsuit notes, however, that Wisner personally controlled the group and was using the substantial funds she extracted—nearly $60,000 each time she taught the class—to engage in political speech and donate to advocacy groups that directly conflict with Barbieri and Radomski’s religious beliefs. For example, in a Facebook post, Wisner linked to a Facebook page associated with “The Rebellion Community” and wrote, “The Rebellion community is a safe place to coordinate our efforts to burn everything to the f***ing ground.” Wisner’s post also said, “100% of membership fees are donated to Planned Parenthood.”
ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Barbieri v. Jeitschko, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division.