‘It is critical that universities model our First Amendment values’
A decision by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln to discriminate against a Christian speaker scheduled by a student group is costing the school tens of thousands of dollars.
A report in Decision magazine explains that a court ruled against the school for failing to distribute money from mandatory student fees to student groups in a viewpoint-neutral manner.
Then a settlement on related claims saw the school agree to pay the student group Ratio Christi $1,500 and another $25,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
“Today’s college students are the future leaders of our country, which is why it is critical that universities model our First Amendment values,” Gregg Walters, a lawyer for ADF, which represented the student group. “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.”
The fight developed when the Christian student group focusing on evangelism and apologetics in January 2021 applied for $1,500 in student activity funding, a process allowed for every recognized student organization every two years.
The group planned to host a lecture by Robert Audi, a respected Christian philosopher who formerly had taught at UNL for nearly 30 years – including a stint as chair of the philosophy department. The Decision report said, “Audi’s topic was ‘Is Belief in God Rational Given the Evils of This World? A Christian Philosopher Responds to the Most Popular Argument Against God.'”
The school’s program council refused the payment, claiming that such payments could not be used for “speakers of a political and ideological nature.”
It said the Christian group had to sponsor “another spokesperson with a different ideological perspective” at the same event.
School officials claimed they had to make certain that “not just Christianity” was represented.
The students held their event anyway, paying for it themselves after Audi lowered his honorarium.
Then ADF filed an action pointing out that “not only was UNL’s policy unconstitutional on several counts, but the university failed to follow its own alleged standards, spending ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to pay for speakers and other events promoting political and ideological viewpoints on topics like sexual orientation, ‘gender identity,’ ‘reproductive justice,’ social justice, police reform, and political activism,” the report said.
The complaint pointed out that in no cases were “opposing viewpoints” represented.