Utah official: Conservative group can’t form on campus unless it’s inclusive
If students want to form a chapter of the socially conservative Eagle Forum on a Utah campus, they must abide by the college’s anti-discrimination policy, according to the state’s attorney general.
Earlier this year a Springville, Utah, attorney, requested on behalf of a Utah Valley State College student an exemption from the college’s policy that campus clubs be open to all students, specifically including gays and lesbians.
Kendra Ruzicka, the student leader of a group seeking to form a chapter of the Eagle Forum Collegians, claimed that the policy would subvert the members’ First Amendment rights — specifically those protecting association, speech and religious exercise. Ruzicka and her attorney, Matthew Hilton, argued that the policy would permit gays and lesbians to infiltrate the group.
On March 16, Utah Attorney General Jan Graham informed Hilton and Ruzicka that the school’s policy on college clubs was “based upon sound, compelling reasons” and would be enforced.
The Eagle Forum Collegians was founded in 1993 by the ultraconservative crusader Phyllis Schlafly, who regularly decries feminists and gays as lacking moral integrity and undermining the nation’s “Christian foundation.” According to the Eagle Forum’s Web site, Schlafly “led the victory over the principal legislative goal of the radical feminists, the Equal Rights Amendment.” Additionally, the Eagle Forum Collegians was formed because “conservative students” need to be heard among the “liberalism, multiculturalism, diversity, and radical feminism” on college and university campuses, the Web site says.
Citing the Eagle Forum’s constitution and bylaws, Hilton said the college’s policy regarding gays and lesbians could adversely “impact upon the freedom of association rights based on political or religious beliefs of the students seeking to form the club.”
The group’s constitution and bylaws state in part that the organization owes its “existence to a Creator who has endowed each of us with unalienable rights; and supports the United States Constitution as the instrument of securing those God-given rights.” The group, moreover, declares the “Holy Scripture as the best means of moral conduct yet devised; the family, with certain rights and responsibilities, as the basic unit of society; and the laws and customs which protect or tend to protect the moral, social, and economic integrity of the family.”
Hilton told the attorney general, in his letter questioning the constitutionality of the college’s policy, that any student joining the Eagle Forum would have to consent to the idea that “same-sex conduct was morally wrong and undermined the integrity of the traditional family unit.”
“Ms. Ruzicka believes that her First Amendment rights and those of student members to associate and promote the principles outlined in the proposed (Eagle Forum) constitution are sufficient to ensure that the discrimination provision — if mandated by Utah or federal law — will not require Eagle Forum Collegians to admit members that engaged in same-sex sexual relations or different-sex relations outside of marriage.”
Hilton’s letter and request prompted The Daily Herald, Provo’s newspaper, to opine that, “the best solution is for the Eagle Forum to take the club off campus rather than fight a battle that nobody will win.”
“Frankly, we can’t imagine a homosexual wanting to join the Eagle Forum,” the Herald‘s editorial board continued. “That would be like an Orthodox Jew joining the Aryan Nations, or a black signing up for the Ku Klux Klan. But if the Eagle Forum wants to operate as a college-sanctioned club, it will have to abide by the college rules. This isn’t to say the Eagle Forum can’t organize a local unit for college students. They can organize, but they’d have to do it without the official sanction of the college.”
Assistant Attorney General David C. Jones said that after reviewing the college’s policy, he concluded that no First Amendment rights of Eagle Forum students would be imperiled.
“Clubs are formed for many reasons, including providing a place outside the classroom to explore, promote and further study and develop particular interests, further explore areas of expertise, and advocate particular viewpoints,” Jones wrote in a three-page letter to Hilton. “UVSC (Utah Valley State College) encourages such activity among clubs, and therefore in general, UVSC believes there is no reason for clubs to be exclusive, discriminatory, cliquish, or limited to a few privileged or select number of individuals. Such exclusion would defeat the purposes of providing a forum for clubs on the UVSC campus.”
Jones said the policy also “encourages and fosters the expression, not the suppression, of ideas and speech by allowing all students, not just a selected number of students, to participate in UVSC clubs.” Jones concluded that if members seeking to establish the Eagle Forum Collegians as a university-chartered club were “unwilling to comply with this requirement,” they could “still have access to the campus facilities, but not as a club that is chartered through UVSC’s Inter Club Council.”
If the members of the Eagle Forum refuse to adopt a more inclusive policy, Jones said the school would have no choice but to refuse to recognize the group. Without the school’s official sanction, the group would therefore be unable to collect funds from student fees, which are distributed by the college’s Inter-Club Council.
On March 22, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Board of Regents v. Southworth that a University of Wisconsin student-fee system policy was constitutional despite an argument from several Christian students that the system used their funds to promote speech they found offensive.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the First Amendment allows state universities and colleges to create forums for student speech using student funds as long as the schools’ programs are “viewpoint neutral.”
In the opinion, Kennedy noted that it “is inevitable that government will adopt and pursue programs within its constitutional powers but which nevertheless are contrary to the profound beliefs and sincere convictions of some of its citizens. The government, as a general rule, may support valid programs and policies by taxes or other exactions binding on protesting parties.”
Hilton said he was not satisfied with the attorney general’s decision but that he was not prepared to say how he would respond.