University student governments are making parody difficult. On Wednesday of this week, the Wichita State University Student Government Association (SGA) refused to recognize Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), a libertarian student group, for no reason other than the group’s support of the First Amendment.
Said one student senator, “We’ve seen very dangerous statements being said in the name of free speech.” Others quizzed the YAL petitioner, Maria Church, about her group’s position on “free speech zones,” “hate speech,” and “safe spaces.” Following a debate, the SGA Senate voted against recognizing YAL.
The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court held in Healy v. James (1972) that a public college may not deny a student organization recognition on the grounds that its views are “abhorrent” did not much trouble the young senators.
On Friday, in response, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sent a spirited letter to WSU president John Bardo. “The Wichita State student government is engaged in a full-frontal assault on the First Amendment,” said Ari Cohn, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “It unconstitutionally denied a student group official recognition because, ironically, the student group supports the right to freedom of speech,”
Cohn continued, “The Wichita State administration cannot give its student government authority to grant or deny recognition to student groups and then stand idly by when that authority is exercised in a viewpoint discriminatory manner. Wichita State must step in to reverse its student government’s unconstitutional actions.”
Cohn closed with only a slightly veiled threat that began “In light of recent lawsuits” and ended, “We look forward to your response.”
“It is discouraging to see elected student officials opposing the free speech of those who disagree with their political agendas,” said Church. “While they claim to stand for diversity and acceptance, they are attacking one of the most diverse groups on campus. The student senate is effectively silencing the very people they’re claiming to stand up for.”