Wednesday, the Alliance Defending Freedom, representing student group Young Americans for Liberty, announced that the group had settled their lawsuit with the University over alleged bias in how reimbursement is allocated to campus organizations.
Under the settlement, the University will pay the group $9,000 in legal fees, $5,000 directly, and revise the student funding policy. Revisions will include the modification of a ban on funding events deemed political and religious in nature, which was the focus of the lawsuit. A separate ban on funding activities relating directly to political events that advocate for legislation will remain unchanged.
The settlement document is dated June 16, though ADF did not announce the decision until Wednesday. University President Mary Sue Coleman, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, Michigan Union Director Susan Pile, Central Student Government, the University’s Board of Regents, and members of CSG’s Student Organization Funding Commission were all named in the lawsuit and subsequent settlement.
YAL brought the lawsuit in December of last year after being denied $1,000 in reimbursement by the University for a speaking engagement on campus by anti-affirmative action speaker Jennifer Gratz. Gratz won a Supreme Court case against the University in 2003 that found its former undergraduate admissions practice of granting extra points to applicants based on race was unconstitutional.
In the lawsuit, YAL and the ADF argued that because the funds for student organization reimbursement are drawn from a part of the student fees that all University students pay, the University was required by the First Amendment to allocate them on a “viewpoint-neutral basis”, which it said the policy of not funding religious or political events went against. It also alleged that the policy was inconsistent, citing funding provided to several groups, including Amnesty International, By Any Means Necessary, and Students for Life, which it said was used for events that were political or religious in nature.
“Defendants violated Young Americans for Liberty’s constitutional rights and caused it irreparable injury by treating it differently than other student organizations simply because of the content and viewpoint of its message,” the lawsuit read.
In a December 2013 statement when the lawsuit was first announced, University alum Kate Stenvig, an organizer for BAMN, disputed the assertion that certain viewpoints were favored above others in the reimbursement process.
“BAMN defends the right of all student organizations to receive funding from CSG and the University for their events, including political events, which are crucial to promoting a lively debate on campus,” the statement read. “But we reject any claim that white or conservative student groups are being discriminated against and minority student groups are being favored in the way these funding decisions are being made.”
She also said BAMN had been denied funding on multiple occasions.
In a statement Wednesday, David Hacker, ADF senior legal counsel, lauded the University’s decision to settle.
“We commend the University of Michigan for recognizing that student organizations like Young Americans for Liberty should not be singled out and denied funding based purely upon the viewpoint expressed at one of its events,” the statement read. “Courts have repeatedly regarded this as unconstitutional.”
ADF has successfully argued previous court cases on the issue at Eastern Michigan University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Texas A&M University.
In an interview Friday evening, YAL president Derek Magill said while he’s glad to see the changes, he thinks there’s still much more to be done.
“I don’t think it’s a huge victory overall,” Magill said. “I don’t think the University has really changed its core beliefs or the core values it held that led to the lawsuit in the first place. But at least right now, there’s sort of a precedent that exists that will at least set an example for future student groups to make claims on.”