Ball State settles free speech suit with campus pro-life group

September 6, 2018

Ball State University has agreed to pay more than $12,000 and to revise its student activity fund allocation guidelines as part of a settlement with a pro-life student organization that sued the school earlier this summer for alleged free speech and equal protection violations.

The settlement agreement in Students for Life at Ball State University, et al. v. Rick Hall, et al., 1:18-cv-1799, requires the university to pay $300 to Students for Life, an on-campus affiliate of national pro-life organization Students for Life of America. That amount reflects the amount the organization sought to receive from the pool of mandatory student activity fees, which it planned to use to “design and distribute educational resource material for pregnant and parenting students at Ball State University.” The Student Activity Fee Committee previously denied the request, citing the university’s policy of not funding “(a)ny Organization which engages in activities, advocacy, or speech in order to advance a particular political interest, religious faith, or ideology.”

The student organization responded by suing various university officials — including the president, a dean and the faculty members of the Student Activity Fee Committee — for violating its First and 14th Amendment rights. Students for Life alleged the committee had allocated funds to other political and ideological organizations, including Feminists for Action, the Secular Student Alliance and Spectrum. Further, Students for Life claimed it did not agree with the views represented by these organizations, but was being forced to subsidize those views by paying into the mandatory activity fund.

The pro-life organization ultimately paid out $289.45 to foot the cost of hosting the pregnant and parenting event.

The settlement agreement also calls on the university to pay $12,000 in fees to the Alliance Defending Freedom, which sued on behalf of Students for Life. The total sum must be paid into Alliance Defending Freedom’s IOLTA account by Sept. 28.

The agreement also requires the school to revise its Student Activity Fee Guidelines by Friday. A copy of the revised guidelines attached to the proposed agreement requires the committee to allocate the Student Organization Fund in a “viewpoint-neutral manner,” meaning “funding will not be denied because the recipient of the funds advocates a particular opinion.”

If an organization believes funds are denied in a discriminatory manner, it can file an appeal to the vice president of student affairs and enrollment services. However, the revised policy also notes funds cannot be used “in direct support of a political candidate or specific legislation.”

“Today is a victory for the First Amendment, as Ball State finally has agreed to stop discriminating against Students for Life,” Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins said in a Wednesday statement announcing the settlement. “Their policy was wrong from the beginning, and they never should have been allowed to ban money from going to religious and political groups in the first place.”

“Public universities are supposed to provide a marketplace of ideas, but that market can’t function properly if university officials promote some views over others,” ADF legal counsel Caleb Dalton said. “Ball State has taken some important first steps in eliminating the most blatantly unconstitutional aspects of their policies and honoring its intent to ‘respect and learn from differences in people, ideas, and opinions.’”

The Muncie university said in a statement, "Ball State University worked collaboratively with the students to promptly and amicably resolve the matter. Student organizations are a vibrant part of campus life. The University looks forward to working with all student organizations as the updated policy is put in to place."  

The plaintiffs filed a stipulation of dismissal on Tuesday, asking the court to retain jurisdiction over the case for 90 days to ensure all aspects of the agreement are enforced. The settlement requires the university to fill its obligations by Oct. 1.


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