Universities are supposed to be places where students go to learn, explore new thoughts, and are even exposed to controversial ideas. This leads to healthy debate and intellectual growth for everyone. In such an environment, diverse political and ideological viewpoints should be welcomed.
But unfortunately, many universities claim to value “diversity” yet continue to show favoritism to their preferred ideologies. Universities might claim that they treat all viewpoints equally, but, to borrow from George Orwell, they see some viewpoints are more equal than others.
Such was the case with one campus chapter of Ratio Christi, a Christian apologetics organization with clubs at universities around the world.
Ratio Christi at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln sought to bring Dr. Robert Audi, a respected Christian philosopher and professor at the University of Notre Dame, to speak about the problem of evil and the existence of God. The club requested funding to help pay for the cost of bringing in Dr. Audi—funding that comes from mandatory student fees.
But the university denied Ratio Christi’s request, saying that such funding could not be used for an event it deemed “political and ideological in nature.” Alternatively, the university said the money could be used to bring in Dr. Audi if Ratio Christi brought in another speaker of the opposite perspective.
But the university had not imposed these same requirements on other organizations or events paid for by student fees on topics like gender identity, “reproductive justice,” social justice, police reform, or political activism.
That’s why Ratio Christi filed suit against the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, because universities cannot discriminate against student groups because of their political or religious beliefs.
Let’s look at the details of this case.
What is Ratio Christi?
Ratio Christi is a global Christian apologetics ministry with over 100 student-led chapters at universities across the United States and internationally. Ratio Christi at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is one such chapter.
Ratio Christi seeks to advance a biblical worldview and explain how the Bible informs various moral, cultural, and political issues. Ratio Christi’s mission is best summarized by the biblical passage found in 1 Peter 3:15-16: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and respect.”
Toward those aims, Ratio Christi holds weekly Bible studies and speaks at churches, camps, and various events. And during the school year, Ratio Christi holds large events open to all students, which feature renowned theologians or members of the academy who give lectures in defense of the Christian faith or debate another academic who believes Christianity is false.
Ratio Christi at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln sought to hold such an event and applied for funding to invite a renowned Christian philosopher to speak at the school. But the university denied the group’s request because the Christian viewpoint of the event was considered “political and ideological in nature.”
Ratio Christi at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln v. The Members of the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
Every year, the University Program Council earmarks $10,000 in mandatory student fee funds to fund events held by recognized student organizations on campus. But under the Program Council’s policy, those fees could not be used for “speakers of a political or ideological nature.” Unsurprisingly, such a policy did not lead to a viewpoint-neutral distribution of these student funds in accordance with Supreme Court precedent.
The policy’s flaws became apparent in 2021, when Ratio Christi applied for $1,500 in student fees to help pay for an upcoming lecture by Dr. Robert Audi, a Christian philosopher and University of Notre Dame professor. Dr. Audi titled his lecture, “Is Belief in God Rational Given the Evils of This World? A Christian Philosopher Responds to the Most Popular Argument Against God.”
The university denied Ratio Christi’s request for funds, under the “political or ideological nature” speaker ban unless the chapter also brought in “another spokesperson with a different ideological perspective” at the same event.
But the Program Council did not impose these conditions on other organizations or events paid for by student fees on topics like gender identity, “reproductive justice,” social justice, police reform, or political activism.
This was a clear case of viewpoint discrimination, and Ratio Christi stood up against this unfair treatment.
In October 2021, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Ratio Christi against the University of Nebraska–Lincoln for discriminating against its Christian views and failing to distribute money collected from mandatory student fees to student organizations in a fair, viewpoint-neutral manner.
In July 2022, a federal court entered a partial judgment against University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials for the $1,500 Ratio Christi was denied. And as part of a later settlement, the university paid $25,000 in attorneys' fees and costs.
The university has also changed its policy on how it distributes student fees to student organizations to better promote the availability of diverse viewpoints to students and help ensure allocation of funding in a viewpoint neutral manner.
In December 2022, in light of the favorable settlement, ADF attorneys filed a stipulated dismissal of the case.
- January 2021: Ratio Christi at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln applied for $1,500 to bring in Christian philosopher Dr. Robert Audi to talk about whether belief in God is rational given the evils of the world. The university denied the club’s request.
- October 2021: Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Ratio Christi against the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for discriminating against their Christian views and failing to distribute money collected from mandatory student fees to student organizations in a fair, viewpoint-neutral manner.
- July 2022: A federal judge entered a partial judgment against two University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials. The parties settled the remaining claims.
- December 2022: In light of the favorable settlement, ADF attorneys filed a stipulated dismissal of the case.
University officials should not dictate which student groups receive funding for events based on political or religious viewpoints.
As the Supreme Court previously ruled in Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth, if student groups are funded with student fees, it should be done on an equal basis, regardless of the viewpoint. Doing this allows universities to truly be marketplaces of ideas, where diverse political and ideological viewpoints are welcomed, not shut down.
Thankfully, the university revised its policies to be more in line with these principles.
The bottom line
Universities cannot discriminate against groups for their political or religious beliefs or hinder them from freely expressing their views on campus.