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Kennesaw State sued again: illegal fees, hierarchical caste system for student organizations

ADF represents Young Americans for Freedom of KSU
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ATLANTA – A student and student group represented by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against Kennesaw State University officials Monday after they imposed unconstitutional “security fees” for an event featuring conservative speaker Katie Pavlich scheduled for March 7. The lawsuit also challenges the university’s complicated student organization ranking system as unconstitutional because of its preferential treatment of groups the university prefers.

Just last month, ADF filed a lawsuit against Kennesaw State on behalf of a different student organization to challenge policies that officials used to relegate a pro-life display to a “speech zone” that makes up less than 0.08 percent of the 405-acre campus.

The new lawsuit—filed on behalf of Young Americans for Freedom at KSU and its student president, Zach Bohannon—challenges policies that give university officials complete discretion to impose “security fees” in any amount they decide on any event they deem “controversial.” The policies resulted in the university charging YAF $320 for the Pavlich event. 

In addition, the lawsuit challenges policies that give officials complete discretion to rank student organizations subjectively into one of four classifications. The tiers function as a sort of caste system for preferential treatment on campus, including which of areas of the campus green officials will allow a requesting student organization to use and how much access a group has to funding for activities.

“A public university is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, but that marketplace can’t function properly if officials can charge a group ‘security fees’ just because they don’t like what the group is saying, or if officials can provide funding and the best locations only to those sharing ideas that they prefer,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “Kennesaw State’s byzantine speech policies allow officials to place student organizations into an arbitrary caste system of superiors and inferiors, and to assess security fees that numerous courts in other cases have routinely declared unconstitutional.”

The four classifications for registered student organizations at KSU, from the lowest level of privilege to the highest, are “recognized” (where the university has placed YAF), “affiliated” (where the university has placed many Christian student groups), “sponsored” (which includes the Kennesaw Pride Alliance and the African-American Student Alliance), and “chartered” (which includes the International Students Association and the LGBTQ Student Programs). The higher the classification, the more access a group has to the best areas of the campus green and to student funding. No faith-based groups are higher than the “affiliated” tier, and no overtly political groups are higher than the “recognized” tier.

Young Americans for Freedom would like to have the same access to resources and facilities as the student groups classified in higher tiers. YAF also wants the unconstitutional security fees removed.

“Kennesaw State’s policies regulating speech in this fashion are not at all constitutional,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Because today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders and voters, universities should live by example in demonstrating the importance of our freedoms protected by the First Amendment instead of communicating to an entire generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter.”

ADF attorneys filed the complaint in Young Americans for Freedom of Kennesaw State University v. Harmon with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

  • Pronunciation guide: Barham (BEAR’-um), Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.


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Travis Barham
Travis Barham
Senior Counsel
Travis C. Barham serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where he plays a key role with the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.
Tyson Langhofer
Tyson Langhofer
Senior Counsel, Director of Center for Academic Freedom
Tyson Langhofer serves as senior counsel and director of the Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending Freedom.