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Libertarian students sue UMich for political discrimination

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Robby Soave
Reporter

A libertarian student club is suing the University of Michigan for political discrimination stemming from a decision made by UM officials to deny funding to the group.

A university funding commission refused to fund UM’s chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty on the grounds that the group was engaged in “political” activity–despite giving money to left-leaning political groups, such as the NAACP and Immigrant Rights Advocacy.

In October, YAL hosted a guest lecture by anti-affirmative action activist Jennifer Gratz. The event, which was covered by The Daily Caller, drew a crowd of left-wing hecklers. (RELATED: Race hustlers heckle libertarian event, lie to kids about affirmative action)

Later, YAL organizers petitioned the university to contribute $1,000 toward the cost of the event. UM collects mandatory fees from students, and allocates the money–about $300,000 each year–to various student groups for the express purpose of hosting events and bringing speakers to campus.

But YAL’s request was denied by the Student Organization Funding Commission on the grounds that it hosted a “political” event, making it ineligible for funding under UM policy, which forbids that the money go to political or religious causes.

By collecting mandatory fees from students and then refusing to fund these students’ events, the university is violating the First Amendment to the Constitution, the lawsuit alleges.

UM was also discriminatory in its allocation of funds. Despite having a blanket ban on funding for political and religious groups, the policy was unevenly applied. Other political groups–including the NAACP, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and Amnesty International–did indeed receive funding as recently as 2010, according to documents cited by the lawsuit.

The university also funded some religious groups, including the Christian Business Initiative, Muslim Student Association, Hindu Student Council and University of Michigan Hillel. “Defendants funding of some political and religious activities, despite Universitypolicy banning funding for these activities, demonstrates that Defendants regularly favor some [Recognized Student Organizations] over others, based on the content and viewpoint of the speech those RSOs express,” the lawsuit reads. “When a public university collects mandatory student fees and then allocates a portion of those fees to student organizations for their expressive activities, the First Amendment requires that the university provide access to the fees on a viewpoint neutral basis.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian litigation group, has filed the lawsuit on behalf of YAL.

Gratz herself has a long history of waging legal battles with UM over the issue of discrimination. She sued the university in 1997 for using a race-based admissions system, eventually prevailing before the Supreme Court. In the landmark case Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court opted to permit but limit public universities’ use of affirmative action. In 2006, Michigan voters approved a ballot initiative that banned race-based admissions entirely, though the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals later invalidated that law.

Gratz was at the Supreme Court again earlier this year, where the Sixth Circuit decision was scrutinized. Legal experts expect a Court majority to side with the voters of Michigan and permit ballot initiatives that ban discriminatory racial preferences in public university admissions. (RELATED: Pro-affirmative action side mocked by conservative AND liberal Supremes)

UM administrators have long argued that affirmative actions is a necessary tool for establishing a diverse campus.

But Gratz told The Daily Caller that the treatment of YAL shows exactly why UM’s professed support for diversity is “little more than lip service.”

“This is a perfect example of what we all feared,” she said. “That the University of Michigan and many universities across the country believe in diversity of [skin] color but not diversity of ideas and thoughts.”

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