Christian student group secures First Amendment win against Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln officials
LINCOLN, Neb. – In a victory for free speech at public universities, a federal court entered partial judgment against University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials who discriminated against Christian student organization Ratio Christi by failing to distribute money collected from mandatory student fees to student organizations in a fair, viewpoint-neutral manner. The parties settled the remaining claims after the university revised its funding policies to provide transparency and accountability in the process.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Ratio Christi filed a federal lawsuit in October 2021 after the university denied Ratio Christi’s request of $1,500 in student activity funding to bring in a respected philosopher who taught at UNL for several decades because, according to the university, it could not promote “speakers of a political and ideological nature.” The university told Ratio Christi that, to receive any funding, the student organization would have to “provide another spokesperson with a different ideological perspective” to counterbalance Dr. Robert Audi’s Christian views. However, the university spends thousands of dollars each year hosting and funding events that are political and ideological in nature without imposing the same requirement.
“Today’s college students are the future leaders of our country, which is why it is critical that universities model our First Amendment values,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gregg Walters. “It’s the duty of university officials to ensure student organizations are treated fairly and objectively, not blatantly discriminated against because of a club’s particular religious or ideological viewpoint as happened to Ratio Christi. We’re pleased the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has taken this necessary step to protect freedom of speech on its campus.”
Two university officials agreed to accept a court judgment against them in the amount of $1,500 for denying the club’s funding request. As part of the 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 promote the availability of diverse viewpoints to UNL students” and ensure allocation of funding is done in a “viewpoint neutral manner.”
“We hope not to litigate but to debate ideas. May the truth prevail in the context of the free market of debated ideas. We’re grateful for the opportunity provided by ADF to remind universities that their fundamental purpose is the pursuit of truth and that the U.S. Constitution provides the freedom necessary for that end,” said Corey Miller, president and CEO of Ratio Christi.
In light of the favorable settlement in Ratio Christi at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln v. The Members of the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska, ADF attorneys filed a stipulated dismissal of the case Thursday.
Ratio Christi is a recognized student organization that seeks to advance, teach, and defend Christian beliefs. As part of its mission, Ratio Christi regularly hosts events on campus that discuss topics like philosophy, ethics, politics, and current events from a Christian perspective.
In recent years, ADF has also reached successful settlements with universities in Texas, Georgia, and Colorado after they agreed to change their policies to protect Ratio Christi’s First Amendment rights.
Richard Wall, Jr. of The Estate Planning Law Firm of Richard J. Wall, Jr., P.C., L.L.O in Lincoln, one of nearly 4,700 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, is serving as local counsel in the case.
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to protecting First Amendment and related freedoms for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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