Ball State University has changed a policy that led to discrimination against "religious, political, or ideological" expression and resulted in a pro-life student group being denied funding awarded to left-leaning political groups on campus.
The Indiana public school has agreed as part of a legal settlement to pay the university's chapter of Students for Life the $300 that it was initially denied from the Student Activity Fee Committee earlier this year and has also changed its previous policy on student activity funding allocation.
While the fee committee grants funding to other political student groups like Feminists for Action, Secular Student Alliance and the LGBT group Spectrum, BSU Students for Life was denied funding in February that would have been used to share educational resources with pregnant and parenting students.
The funding was denied on the basis of the organization's pro-life viewpoints.
A lawsuit filed in June points out that the university previously gave the fee committee authority to decide which groups may receive the funding from the mandatory student activity fees. Students affiliated with Students for Life had paid a total of more than $1,000 per year in student activity fees at BSU but were still denied access.
Students for Life accused the BSU student government of "playing favorites" and "stifling free speech."
But now, the school has altered its student fund allocation policy so that student activity funds will be made available on a "viewpoint-neutral manner." The new policy will go into effect on Friday.
"Viewpoint-neutral funding means that funding decisions are not based on a group's point of view or message and funding will not be denied because the recipient of the funds advocates a particular opinion," the new policy states. "Viewpoint-neutral criteria for evaluating funding proposals may consider only factors that are not tied to viewpoints."
Additionally, the school has agreed to pay $12,000 in legal fees to the group's lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom.
"Public universities are supposed to provide a marketplace of ideas, but that market can't function properly if university officials promote some views over others," ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton said in a statement. "Ball State has taken some important first steps in eliminating the most blatantly unconstitutional aspects of their policies and honoring its intent to 'respect and learn from differences in people, ideas, and opinions.' We sincerely hope this serves as a catalyst to review all policies to maximize the free exchange of ideas at BSU."
Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins praised the settlement.
"We're encouraged that Ball State is reversing its discrimination against pro-life students," Hawkins stated. "Tolerance is a two-way street, and BSU Students for Life deserves equal access to funding and the continued opportunity to share their message of hope with pregnant and parenting students."
Students for Life of America is the nation's largest pro-life youth organization with more than 1,200 groups nationwide. The BSU case is not the first time that the organization has had to press legal action against university and college administrations.
Last August, Colorado State University settled a lawsuit brought on by Students for Life after the school refused to give the campus chapter $600 to fund a pro-life speaker. Students for Life was also represented by Alliance Defending Freedom in that case.
ADF has also come to the aid for Students for Life at California State University - San Marcos after the group's funding request for $500 to host a pro-life speaker was denied.
ADF pointed out that the California State University - San Marcos provided nearly $300,000 to its Gender Equity Center and the LGBQTA Pride Center for expressive activities in the 2016-2017 academic year. The Students for Life group was looking to provide some balance to the pro-abortion speakers the school had hosted in the past.
Last January, Students for Life at Queens College in New York City sued the school because a student panel refused to grant the group registered status. After filing a lawsuit, the school approved the pro-life group's registered status.