The funding is freely available to other clubs for their events, and all students — including those with Students for Life — pay into the fund, but the student government nonetheless denied funding for the event, at which King spoke about her experience in the civil rights movement and how students can continue to protect civil rights today. King is also a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives.
“Public universities are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, but that marketplace can’t function if a university grants funding only to student groups whose views the university favors,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “Georgia Tech’s policy allowed discrimination against Ms. King because she was accused of leading an ‘inherently religious’ life. Under such a standard, MLK himself would not be welcome on campus. The Supreme Court made it clear 20 years ago that if public universities wish to force students to pay student activity fees, then those universities have a duty to ensure that the funds are distributed in a viewpoint-neutral manner.”
In the summer of last year, Students for Life at Georgia Tech submitted a request to the Student Government Association for funding the King event out of the pool of mandatory student activity fees available for such events. Such requests are routinely “fast tracked” without any discussion, but when Students for Life club member Brian Cochran presented his request to the graduate and undergraduate houses of the SGA, they interrogated him on the content and viewpoints that Students for Life and King would present at the event.
SGA members stated that, because King has been involved in religious ministries, her life was “inherently religious,” and they could not separate that from the event about civil rights and abortion and would thus deny the application. They expressed concern that some students may be offended by King’s presence on campus and viewpoints she had expressed.
“The student government discriminated against the viewpoints of Students for Life and Ms. King in favor of the views of students the SGA members were afraid to offend,” explained ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Rather than exemplify this sort of hostility toward the First Amendment, universities should exemplify the importance of those freedoms. When they don’t, they communicate to an entire generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter.”
ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Students for Life at Georgia Tech v. Regents of the University System of Georgia, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.
“Courageous student leaders across the country face real opposition from their schools because they choose to speak for the defenseless and want to peacefully educate their fellow students about it,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins. “The Constitution is clear that public universities can’t engage in the type of discrimination that has taken place at Georgia Tech.”
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