By Gina Martinez
Queens College has changed its policies regarding student groups recognition following a discrimination lawsuit filed by a pro-life group.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian non-profit advocacy group, Queens College settled and agreed to change policies that led to “unconstitutional discrimination” against a pro-life group called “Students for Life”
Students for Life of America is one of the nation’s most active pro-life organizations and the largest youth pro-life organization. The organization provides training to college, high school, medical, and law school students across the country to “stand for life” on their campuses.
The Queens College Students for Life v. Members of the City University of New York Board of Trustees suit was filed in January and settled earlier this week.
According to ADF, last fall Queens College Students for Life and other campus groups applied for “registered” status in an attempt to join more than 100 other student organizations that are allowed to reserve meeting space, invite speakers, and receive funding from mandatory student activity fees. ADF said school officials delayed and then rejected Students for Life’s application without explanation but approved the applications of at least two other groups immediately.
ADF said that after its attorneys filed suit in the federal court in Brooklyn, Queens College decided to recognize the group but did not revise any policies. The school has since changed course and has agreed to revise its student organization recognition and funding policies to prevent discrimination based on a club’s beliefs.
ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton commended Queens College for doing the right thing by their students.
“When public universities unconstitutionally favor some student groups over others based upon their views, they act in direct contradiction to their role as the ‘marketplace of ideas’,” he said. “These revisions will ensure that no clubs are denied meeting space, funding and other benefits necessary to form a club and fully participate on campus based solely upon their point of view.”
According to ADF, “Students for Life” members were forced to fund, through the college’s mandatory student activity fees, groups that support abortion but could not access funds from those fees, which exceed $1,200 per student over eight semesters, for themselves.
Following the settlement, changes in policy include concrete guidelines on the approval of student groups and allocation of funds, a requirement for a written decision, elimination of a discriminatory student body “referendum” on whether groups will be funded, and the addition of an appeals process that student organizations can use if they are denied recognition.
Previously the Campus Affairs Committee had the authority to decide whether a group should be granted official recognition and whether it may receive funding. ADF said the committee’s “sweeping authority allowed them to deny recognition and funding for any reason, including unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”
Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins said the settlement will ensure that student organizations will now be able to experience a free exchange of ideas.
“Too frequently we see that public colleges and universities feel they can deny recognition or funding to a student group just because officials don’t agree with the viewpoint of those students,” she said. “Queens College was playing favorites while stifling free speech.”
In a statement, Queens College said the school welcomed the participation of all students in campus activities and that it looks forward to continuing to make their campus a diverse and welcoming environment for all.
“Queens College is pleased to have resolved matters relating to the student club Queens College Students for Life, which was granted status in January 2017. This resolution will further strengthen the processes for the establishment and maintenance of student clubs.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart