CLS-ADF suit brings funding, choice of leadership to Boise State student groups

Agreement means religious student groups can receive funding like all other groups
Monday, August 10, 2009

BOISE, Idaho — Because of a lawsuit filed by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom and the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law & Religious Freedom, Boise State University has revamped a critical policy affecting religious student groups.

BSU agreed to modify its student activity fees policy so that religious student groups can seek funding from the fees, which are already available to atheist and other student groups. As a result, the six BSU students who brought the lawsuit have filed a voluntary dismissal of their court case.

“Christian student groups shouldn’t be discriminated against for their beliefs. The Supreme Court has unmistakably held that religious student groups cannot be excluded from student fee funding because of their religious views,” said lead counsel Casey Mattox, who litigated the case while with the CLS Center for Law & Religious Freedom.

“This case illustrates the environment that religious student groups face on campuses around the country,” Mattox explained. “Religious student groups at BSU were essentially outsiders over a decade after the Supreme Court held that such a policy violates the First Amendment. The university has done the right thing in agreeing to modify their policy so that the constitutional rights of these students will be respected.”

Boise State requires all students to pay a student activity fee. The funds are then distributed to student groups by the student government. However, BSU prohibited religious student groups from seeking student fee funding, asserting that the Idaho Constitution required the school to exclude them. An atheist student group nevertheless received funding from student fees because it was not deemed to be “religious.”

“Students who are compelled to pay fees to support other groups should at least have the right to seek access to a small portion of those fees for their own groups,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.

As a result of the lawsuit, BSU completely rewrote its policies for student activity fee distribution to provide protection for all student groups against viewpoint discrimination. BSU also amended its policies to clarify that its nondiscrimination policies would not be applied to prevent student groups, including religious student groups, from limiting their leadership to those who share the groups’ beliefs and conduct themselves consistently with those beliefs.

Attorney Bruce Skaug of Goicoechea Law Offices in Nampa also represented the students who filed the suit Cordova v. Laliberte in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho.

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom defends religious freedom at America’s public universities ( ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. The CLS Center for Law & Religious Freedom is a team of Christian attorneys allied with ADF to defend religious liberty and human life.