Most students at public colleges and universities enroll in classes with the goal of getting degrees so that they can go on to have successful careers in their chosen fields. They should be able to trust that the professors who teach these courses have their best interest in mind.
But one professor at Michigan State University was more concerned about pushing her own political ideology than teaching students the skills they are supposed to be learning. She took advantage of her students for her own gain, and she violated the First Amendment in the process.
Read on to learn more about this professor’s egregious actions and how Alliance Defending Freedom responded.
Who are Nathan Barbieri and Nolan Radomski?
Nathan Barbieri and Nolan Radomski are sophomores at Michigan State University. To complete their degrees, both students are required to take a course called Business Communications, so they each enrolled in the course for the spring 2023 semester.
Nathan and Nolan are Christians, and their faith informs their views on philosophical, moral, political, and social issues. In accordance with Scripture, Nathan and Nolan believe that every person is created uniquely by God in His image. For this reason, they believe it is never acceptable to take the life of an innocent human being, including those who are unborn. Similarly, Nathan and Nolan hold to the biblical belief that marriage—the exclusive union of one man and one woman—is the only appropriate context for sexual intimacy.
In a typical business communications class, these deeply held beliefs would not be relevant to completing the coursework. But the course they had signed up for was no typical class.
When Nathan, Nolan, and hundreds of other students received the syllabus for Business Communications, they saw that the professor, Amy Wisner, had included a requirement for them to pay a $99 yearly subscription to something called “The Rebellion Community.” The platform described itself as “a global social learning community with a private space dedicated to this course” and promised “access to shared spaces that are used by members of the broader community.”
After the students had paid the online subscription page, a webpage assured them that Professor Wisner “does not receive any financial compensation from your membership fees,” but her own Facebook posts revealed that she controlled the group and used it for political advocacy.
What’s more, there was no apparent functional advantage to using the Rebellion Community’s website. MSU’s online platform for course materials—used by most of the university’s professors—could have hosted course material just as well as Professor Wisner’s platform.
Professor Wisner claimed in one Facebook post that 100 percent of membership fees were donated to Planned Parenthood. In other posts, she indicated that funds were also used for other forms of political activism. But in any case, Professor Wisner dishonestly took money from her students and used it to push her own political ideology.
The First Amendment prohibits government officials, including professors at public universities, from forcing people to financially support causes that contradict their beliefs. Professor Wisner ignored that fact and forced students to support her political views, all while lying to them about where their money was going.
The university has attempted to avoid accountability for this violation by placing Professor Wisner on leave and crediting students enrolled in the course with $99 on their university accounts. But this does not stop the professor from using the money she gathered to push political causes that students like Nathan, Nolan, and hundreds of others may disagree with, and it doesn’t stop other professors from pulling similar stunts in the future.
ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit in May 2023 to hold Professor Wisner and officials at Michigan State University accountable for violating the First Amendment.
What’s at stake?
By forcing students to financially support causes they disagree with, Professor Wisner was already in violation of the First Amendment. On top of that, she controls the group that she forced students to pay membership to, and she was dishonest with the students about where their money was going.
A ruling in favor of Nathan and Nolan would ensure government officials cannot use underhanded tactics to force people to support their political ideals.
- January 2023: Professor Amy Wisner required Nathan Barbieri and Nolan Radomski (and all other students enrolled in her Business Communications course) to buy a $99 yearly membership to a political activist group called “The Rebellion Community.” Professor Wisner had a similar requirement for the previous semester as well.
- May 2023: After it was discovered that Professor Wisner controlled the group and used the fees to push her own political ideology, ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit against her for violating the First Amendment.
The bottom line
Professors can’t force students to fund political organizations as a requirement for an academic course.