The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday is freedom of speech. This is one of the first freedoms in that it is listed in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. This amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech….”
Freedom of speech is in the news because a conservative student group sued the University of Florida for violating the students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter filed the lawsuit in December 2018, and the university decided to settle. The university will pay the student group $66,000 and amend school policy allowing conservative groups to have greater access to financial resources.
It seems that the university designated the chapter as a “nonbudgeted” organization. This would put the group in the position to seek funding for each event that it wants to host. It also disqualified the group from using student fees to pay for the attendance fee of a speaker.
The YAF spokesman Spencer Brown told TheDaily Caller News Foundation that the University of Florida made a good decision when they realized that they could not win. “It was very smart for them to recognize their policy was flawed the way it was set up, and that the conservative students in the YAF chapter were getting the rough end of the deal by being labeled a nonbudget student organization.”
The university realized that YAF had “emails and facts [and] the Constitution” on their side. “It just wasn’t worth it for them to try to prove they were doing it for some other reason. There is never any reason for violating the Constitution” according to Brown. Sarah Long, former University of Florida YAF chairwoman told The New Guard:
This settlement is a great victory for all students at the University of Florida.
The University of Florida should be a marketplace of ideas where students can decide for themselves which ideas have merit. Moving forward, our chapter is excited to host leading conservative speakers on campus.
A darker picture was painted by an attorney. It seems that the university went out of its way to stop the conservative student group. Blake Meadows, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told The New Guard:
University of Florida administrators are limiting YAF members’ First Amendment freedoms by forcing them to pay into a system that funds opposing viewpoints. Worse yet, the university forces YAF to play an arbitrary, complex game of Chutes and Ladders in the funding process, wherein the student group can continually be sent back to the beginning of the game ate the sole discretion of the student government.
The university also changed its rules to single out and disqualify the conservative group from receiving funding for speakers fees and honoraria – making it even more difficult for the group to express its viewpoint on campus.
It seems that the conservative group of students did the right thing in standing up to the university. This settlement will most likely have a deterrent effect on other universities that attempt to curtail the rights of conservative students.