California University Reaches Settlement with Students for Life in Discrimination Suit

According to Alliance Defending Freedom, CSU-San Marcos has more than 100 student groups but has been discriminatory in distributing funding to those groups.

Students for Life display signs at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., 2019.
Students for Life display signs at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., 2019. (photo: CNA.)

SAN MARCOS, Calif. — A California state university has this week agreed to revise its policies and pay more than $240,000 in fees after a federal court last summer found that the university had discriminated against a student pro-life group and had used mandatory student fees to fund only university-favored views.

In 2017, legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the pro-life student group Students for Life, after California State University–San Marcos denied the group access to funding paid for by mandatory student fees that should have been available to all student groups.

According to ADF, CSU-San Marcos has more than 100 student groups but has been discriminatory in distributing funding to those groups. In the 2016-2017 academic year, the university gave the Gender Equity Center and the LGBQTA Pride Center a combined total of $296,498, or 57 times what the other student groups were granted, which was less than $6,000.

The issue came to light in the 2016-207 school year when Students for Life was denied $500 to fund a visiting pro-life speaker, University of North Carolina–Wilmington Professor Mike Adams, who was to give a talk on “Abortion and Human Equality.” The group members had paid the same mandatory student activity fees required of all students.

Students for Life of America is the largest pro-life student group in the U.S., with more than 1,225 student groups on high school and college campuses throughout the country.

In 2019, a California district court ruled against CSU-San Marcos’ “back room deliberations” that determined how to distribute student group funds, and directed the university to reach an agreement with Students for Life about amendments to their policies. These changes, which will be applied to all 23 schools in the California State University system, will be made so that the policies comply with the state constitution’s viewpoint-neutrality requirement for universities.

“Public universities should encourage all students to participate in the free exchange of ideas, not create elaborate and secretive funding schemes to fund their favorite groups while excluding opposing views from equal access,” ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton said in a statement.

“The university system’s policy changes don’t simply benefit our clients but also benefit any student with a minority viewpoint and every citizen who cares about dialogue and intellectual freedom within our public colleges and university communities,” he added.

ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said in a statement that the changes to the university system’s policies will “better align with the ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘individual and cultural diversity’ it touts within its community.”

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, praised the student leaders on campus at CSU-San Marcos for standing up for their rights.

“Pro-life students should have every opportunity available to them that pro-abortion students have,” she said in a statement, “and anything less is a failure on the part of the university to abide by the First Amendment.”