A New York public university has agreed to pay thousands of dollars to a pro-life student group and retool its student group approval process to settle a discrimination lawsuit.
Queens College will pay $5,000 to cover legal fees to Students for Life over accusations that the taxpayer-funded school stifled their free speech rights and imposed a political test on their application to receive student activity funds.
Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins hailed the settlement as a victory for the freedom of association and speech on college campuses amid numerous controversies about crackdowns on both among university students. The settlement will waive the pro-life group's fees for the fall semester and force the school to revisit its registration process.
"Discriminatory practices against pro-life students have ended" at Queens College, she said in a statement. "We are celebrating the change in policy that now allows pro-life students to benefit from their mandatory student fees to support their passion to serve mothers and their preborn children."
Students for Life is one of the largest pro-life groups in the country with more than 1,100 chapters in high schools and universities. When Queens College student Norvilia Etienne attempted to establish a new chapter at the school, she came under scrutiny from officials on campus, which entitles student groups to receive student activity funds, book speakers, and rent campus meeting space.
Despite the fact the university funds multiple groups that support abortion, Etienne's application was initially rejected without explanation.
Students for Life brought the case with assistance from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal nonprofit committed to religious liberty and freedom of speech cases.
Casey Mattox, the director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, said the settlement will help reverse trends of a speech policing on campus. He called the group's case a "no brainer" because Queens College is a public university through the taxpayer funded City University of New York (CUNY) system. Rejecting the pro-life group's application amounted to government interference in free speech, according to Mattox.
"College campuses are supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, but all too often they’re more like a Venezuelan grocery of ideas with limited choice and government interference making speech more expensive than free," Mattox told the Washington Free Beacon. "We hope that today's settlement makes Queens College more hospitable to minority views."
Queens College continues to deny that administrators did not discriminate against the group and settled the case without admitting fault. The campus did grant Students for Life recognition on January 27, 2017, just two days after Etienne filed suit. A university spokeswoman said the school is pleased to move beyond the court case and said the terms of the settlement will "strengthen" student life on campus.
"Queens College is pleased to have resolved matters relating to the student club Queens College Students for Life," she said in an email. "This resolution will further strengthen the processes for the establishment and maintenance of student clubs. As an institution of higher learning with students from more than 150 nations, located in the nation's most ethnically diverse county, we welcome the participation of all students in campus activities."
Under the terms of the settlement the university agreed to develop a revised registration process by Nov. 30. It will send the proposal to the student Senate by Dec. 1 and submit further changes to the entire CUNY system by May 2018, though the settlement stipulates that the case "shall have no precedential value" for any future cases relating to student activity registration disputes.
CUNY declined to comment, instead referring to the Queens College statement. .
Pro-Life groups have faced obstacles to official recognition at other institutions of higher learning. The group tallied 35 incidents of vandalism and disruption of its activities at American universities between 2012 and 2017. The Queens College settlement came one week after a Fresno State University professor agreed to pay members of the group $1,000, as well as legal fees, after he ordered his students to erase the group's chalking displays across campus.