Lawsuit Accuses California University of Liberal Bias in Student Activity Funding

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By Nahema Marchal | 4:55 am, May 22, 2017

Members of a pro-life group at a California university have filed a lawsuit against their school, claiming it unfairly “favors” liberal student groups by allocating most of its funding to LGBT and gender equality causes.

Nathan Apocada, president of the Student for Life group at California State University San Marco (CSU-SM)– a state college outside San Diego – filed the  federal complaint on May 17 claiming CSU-SM is forcing students to “subsidize speech that they disagree with” in breach of the first Amendment, the suit claims.

Each year, the Associated Students Incorporation (ASI) collects a mandatory $75 student activity fee from all San Marco students to fund a bunch of activities ranging from cultural and educational programs to scholarships, student publications athletics and campus-based advocacy groups.

Dixit California law funds collected through mandatory fees should be spent on programs that “reflect the broadest variety of student interests.”

But, according to the suit, over 50% of the money raised last year for “student advocacy” — nearly $300,000 — landed in the pockets of only two groups: the Gender Equity Center and LGBTQA Pride center.

In contrast, only 7% – or $38,000 of the total $1.3 million raised in the school year 2016-2017 – went to fund free-speech activities of more than 100 student organizations on campus, including Students for Life, Apodaca claims.

Pro-life activist holds a silent vigil as he waits for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

By granting school administrators “unbridled discretion” in deciding how they want to allocate the money collected by the ASI, thus allowing them to discriminate certain viewpoints, the student fee policy is effectively chilling free speech on campus, he says.

The two centers have also been granted special privileges that other groups do not have, the suit alleges: they can use funds from the student activity fees to bring in speakers to advocate for their views — something other student-run organizations have not had the chance to do.

Apocada says his and other students’ money has gone to fund speeches and activities whose message they wholeheartedly disagree with — including an interactive workshop on bondage and sadomasochism hosted by a professional sexologist called “Kink 101,” a “Pleasure Party” organized by the Pride Center, and several pro-abortion lectures —while they, in turn, never had the opportunity to respond or organize counter events offering alternative perspectives on similar subjects.

When Students for Life asked to host a pro-life columnist and speaker to give a speech, open to all, entitled “Abortion and Human Equality: A Scientific and Philosophical Defense of the Pro-life View”, the university denied their request, saying the student-activity fee could not be used for speakers.

To his dismay, Apocada could not even appeal the decision as there is no appeals process in place, the suit claims.

The school also gives a chunk of fee money to an “Arts and Lectures Series” that hosts talks and screenings on a variety of topics.

This year’s speaker series featured a lecture by a storyteller and sociologist entitled “Things I Learned from Fat People on the Plane.”

Apocada and his peers join a slew of conservative students who have raised alarm bells recently about colleges suppressing campus speech they disagree with by un-inviting speakers or imposing arbitrary rules on artistic freedom and cultural appropriation.

Recent examples include the brouhaha around conservative commentator Ann Coulter’s scheduled speech at University of California, Berkeley (her lecture on immigration was initially cancelled over safety concerns and fears that the event could spark violent protests before being reinstated after students took the matter to court) and shamed Milo Yiannopoulos’s appearance at the same university, for his “Dangerous F****t” tour which ended up in riots.

Students for Life is now seeking compensatory damages of $500,000 plus the amount of student fees paid by each plaintiff member of Student for Life at CSU-SM.

Picture credit: Cal State San Marcos | by Rennett Stowe