More than 50 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Americans are still learning from his legacy. Students for Life at Georgia Tech recognized this. And that’s why they decided to bring Alveda King, Dr. King’s niece, to campus to speak about her experience in the civil rights movement and how we can fight for civil rights today.
The students submitted a funding request to the student government to host King. It is standard procedure for these requests to be fast-tracked and approved immediately. But not this time.
To the surprise of Students for Life, the student government objected to the proposal, expressing concern that King’s speech would be “inherently religious” and make others feel bad. Members of the student government even suggested censoring King by limiting the topics about which she could speak.
The student government had not subjected other clubs to this level of scrutiny. Indeed, the student government had no problem funding a speech by pro-abortion politician Andrew Gillum. Nor did they object to supporting travel for the democratic socialist club.
But this type of viewpoint discrimination is unconstitutional.
That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against the school on behalf of Students for Life.
Every Georgia Tech student is required to pay into the student activity fund, which the student government decides how to allocate. Yet, there are no guidelines to ensure that the student government distributes these funds in a viewpoint-neutral fashion. And that means the student government can promote its favored viewpoints while silencing the viewpoints with which it disagrees.
All 35+ members of Students for Life were on the receiving end of this discriminatory policy. The student government blocked Students for Life from accessing those funds, silencing their pro-life viewpoint. At the same time, the student government approved funding for other groups to promote viewpoints with which Students for Life disagrees, including pro-abortion views.
But our Constitution guarantees—and many courts have ruled—that public universities cannot withhold student activity funding (which every student is required to pay into) from a student group simply because it holds religious or conservative beliefs. Georgia Tech’s discriminatory policies transform the university from a “‘marketplaces of ideas’ to a seller’s market of a single ideology.”
What’s worse, Georgia Tech knew it was breaking the law.
Twelve years ago, a federal court heard a lawsuit against Georgia Tech over similar issues, and the court took the opportunity to put the university on notice. The court expressed concern that the university had not “appreciated the nature and degree of this problem.” In a moment of stunning foresight, the court warned that it “has no doubt that [a similar] challenge will occur in the future, and it would behoove the school to prepare for that eventuality.”
Georgia Tech’s refusal to respect the constitutional rights of its students is stunning. In doing so, Georgia Tech is teaching its students that the proper way to interact with opposing viewpoints is to silence them. But that is inconsistent with the Constitution.
Thankfully, the members of Students for Life are willing to take a stand to set this right—ensuring that Georgia Tech respects the First Amendment rights of all students on campus.
Bryce Asberg is a Media Communication Intern at ADF Legal