Anti-gay students lose fees case

April 7, 2000

Universities can continue to collect mandatory student fees to subsidise campus groups, even from students who object to the groups' positions or activities, the United States supreme court has ruled.

The court's unanimous decision thwarts escalating opposition from conservative students who are angry that their money is used to underwrite the operating costs of campus groups that support gays and lesbians, women's rights, environmental activism and other causes without their consent.

The justices ruled that the guarantee of free speech under the First Amendment of the constitution allows public universities to disburse the revenues from student fees to any group, as long as the group does not discriminate on the basis of viewpoint.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the decision, cited what he called "the important and substantial purposes of the university, which seeks to facilitate a wide range of speech".

The case was brought in 1996 by conservative law students at the University of Wisconsin. One, Scott Southworth, said that as a Christian he did not want his money to be given to 18 specific groups that conflicted with his beliefs, including the International Socialist Organisation and the Campus Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center.

University officials praised the ruling, saying it would help ensure that campuses would continue to be places where there is a variety of points of view.

University of Wisconsin system president Katharine Lyall said administrators try to ensure all groups get funding: "It goes to the heart of what a university is."

But Mr Southworth said: "Viewpoint neutrality... forces black students to fund the Ku Klux Klan. It serves to offend everybody."

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