ACLU Urges Governor to Veto Bill Requiring Public Universities to Fund Discriminatory Student Organizations

Group says legislation is unnecessary to protect students’ free speech and free association rights, and threatens universities’ academic freedom

The ACLU of Virginia today sent a letter to Governor Bob McDonnell on March 8 urging him to veto legislation that compels public colleges and universities to recognize and fund student organizations that discriminate in their membership based on sexual orientation and religion.

“The First Amendment already protects the right of student organizations to discriminate,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. “These bills have nothing to do with students’ free speech or free association rights. Instead, it’s about infringing on the university’s right to academic freedom and to promote an inclusive learning environment. While student groups have a right to discriminate, it does not mean that we must require public colleges to recognize and fund those discriminatory groups.”

The bills, HB 1617 and SB 1074, prohibit public universities from denying recognition and funding to student organizations that discriminate in their membership based on classifications – such as sexual orientation and religion – not protected by federal statutes. The legislation is intended to override the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (2010), in which the high court ruled in favor of Hastings College of Law and affirmed the school’s right to require student clubs seeking school recognition and funding to adhere to the school’s non-discrimination policy, so long as the requirement is applied to all student clubs equally.

“One of the primary goals of higher education institutions is to ensure that educational opportunities are available to all students,” added Gastañaga. “Participation in student organizations provides meaningful leadership opportunities and the chance to build professional contacts. Students excluded from these clubs may face a disadvantage that can substantially harm them, and government resources should not be used to perpetuate such inequality or to enable discrimination.”

A copy of the ACLU’s letter to the Governor can be found online at:  https://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/20130308ACLULtrtoGovVetoCLSBills.pdf

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