Wichita State Student Government Refuses to Recognize Libertarian Group

April 7, 2017

The Wichita State University student government has refused to recognize a libertarian group on campus because of its First Amendment principles, and a nonprofit group that defends freedom of speech and academic freedom on campuses is asking the university president to reverse their decision.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in a letter on Friday to Wichita State President John Bardo demanded he immediately reverse the student government's decision. The letter also asked Bardo to instruct the student government that it cannot discriminate against prospective student groups based on their own viewpoints.

"The Wichita State student government is engaged in a full-frontal assault on the First Amendment: It unconstitutionally denied a student group official recognition because, ironically, the student group supports the right of freedom of speech," said Ari Cohn, director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, in a prepared statement.

"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," said Cohn, adding that the university must reverse the student government's "unconstitutional actions."

The student government questioned student Maria Church about her application to form a campus chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty on April 5. They also asked her about the group's political positions, the issues it will address, and even the group's views on the First Amendment.

Church was asked about her position on "safe spaces", YAL's position on "hate speech", and YAL's opposition to "free speech zones."

Several senators were against officially recognizing YAL because other chapters of the group have invited speakers such as former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulous to speak on campus.

"We've seen very dangerous statements being said in the name of free speech," said one senator. Another said, "if you want to talk about having free speech, [YAL's] definition of free speech is highly skewed, based on the empirics of this.

After debating YAL's application, the student government voted against recognizing the libertarian group.

According to FIRE, their decision is directly in conflict with longstanding First Amendment jurisprudence. In Healy v. James (1972), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a public college may not deny recognition of a student group "simply because it finds the views expressed by any group to be abhorrent."

Church was discouraged by the student government's decision and claimed they are attacking and silencing students they claim they stand for.

"It is discouraging to see elected student officials opposing the free speech of those who disagree with their political agendas," said Church in a prepared statement. "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."