Teaching Colleges a Lesson

When a pro-life student group at MTSU got hit with a fee other students groups have not been required to pay, the Alliance Defense Fund stepped in, and the University retreated. Perhaps that will send a message to other universities in Tennessee: Don’t discriminate against conservatives.

College campuses can be a cesspool of political correctness and intolerance for those students and student groups that don’t conform to liberal ideology. When one state college recently tried to impose a unique burden on a conservative student group, they found out someone is watching.

Recently a student group at Middle Tennessee State University, Pro-Life Collegians, applied to present a pro-life message on campus through Justice for All’s pro-life exhibits. Officials at MTSU approved the Pro-Life Collegians’ application, but with a precondition that it had to pay for security for the event. Even though no written policy validates such charges, which aren’t required for other student group events, the university insisted that Pro-Life Collegians pay for security for its event.

Pro-Life Collegians knew that they should not be treated differently from other campus student groups that sponsor events and called on the Alliance Defense Fund’s Center for Academic Freedom (ADF) to help them challenge the university’s discriminatory approval of their application.

ADF wrote the university to tell them that the fee was unconstitutional because such a vague and unwritten standard empowered the university to enforce or waive the fee requirement based upon their approval or disapproval of a student group’s message. The letter also stated that allowing the uncapped fee gave MTSU officials unlimited authority to silence and charge any disfavored group as they see fit, in violation of the free-speech rights of students protected by the First Amendment. Essentially, according to ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Joe Martins, who wrote the letter, pro-life student groups were being penalized and discriminated against for expressing their beliefs.” And the message in ADF’s letter was clear: “We’ll sue if necessary.”

Fortunately, the university changed its mind and gave deference to the group’s First Amendment right by retracting the fee.

So, while the University’s arbitrary application of a security fee requirement could have “chilled” the rights of student groups on campus because of the burden a fee would impose on presenting their group’s views, let’s hope the intervention by ADF on behalf of conservatives on this campus will “chill” a little of the political correctness and intolerance toward conservatives that is probably taking place on other college campuses and classrooms in Tennessee. There may just be someone watching who is big enough and willing to take them on.