NEW YORK – As part of a legal settlement finalized Wednesday, Queens College officials have agreed to change policies that led to unconstitutional discrimination against a pro-life student group. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represented the campus Students for Life chapter in a lawsuit filed in January against Queens College, which is a part of the City University of New York system.
Last fall, Queens College Students for Life and other campus groups applied for “registered” status, seeking to join more than 100 student organizations—including pro-abortion clubs—which are allowed to reserve meeting space, invite speakers, and receive funding from mandatory student activity fees. Officials delayed and then rejected Students for Life’s application without explanation but approved the applications of at least two other groups immediately.
After ADF attorneys filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the college decided to recognize the group but didn’t agree to revise any policies. Now the school has agreed to revise its student organization recognition and funding policies to prevent discrimination based on a club’s beliefs. The changes include concrete guidelines on the approval of student groups and allocation of funds, a requirement for a written decision, elimination of a discriminatory student body “referendum” on whether groups will be funded, and the addition of an appeals process that student organizations can use if they are denied recognition.
“When public universities unconstitutionally favor some student groups over others based upon their views, they act in direct contradiction to their role as the ‘marketplace of ideas,’” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “We commend Queens College for finally deciding to do the right thing by their students and revise its policies. These revisions will ensure that no clubs are denied meeting space, funding, and other benefits necessary to form a club and fully participate on campus based solely upon their point of view.”
Prior to the settlement, the college gave unlimited power to the Campus Affairs Committee to decide whether a group should be granted official recognition and whether it may receive funding. The lawsuit, Queens College Students for Life v. Members of the City University of New York Board of Trustees, pointed out that this sweeping authority allowed them to deny recognition and funding for any reason, including unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.
Because of Queens College’s discriminatory practices, Students for Life members were forced to fund, through the college’s mandatory student activity fees, groups that support abortion but could not access funds from those fees, which exceed $1,200 per student over eight semesters, for themselves.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, commissioners, and voters,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “That’s why it’s so important that public universities like Queens College model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students.”
“Too frequently we see that public colleges and universities feel they can deny recognition or funding to a student group just because officials don’t agree with the viewpoint of those students,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins. “Queens College was playing favorites while stifling free speech, but this settlement ensures that student organizations there will now be able to experience a free exchange of ideas.”
Joseph Ruta, one of more than 3,200 private attorneys allied with ADF, served as local counsel for Queens College Students for Life. Students for Life of America is one of the nation’s most active pro-life organizations and the largest youth pro-life organization.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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