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IUSA changes policy, starts funding religious-based student organizations


By Claire Aronson



Mercedez McDowell, leader of conferences and events of the Impact Movement at IU, applied for IU Student Association funding for the student organization to attend Impact nationals 2010 in Atlanta. Because the group’s mission is religiously based, McDowell said it was denied funding.

With support from the Alliance Defense Fund, that IUSA rule recently changed.
Late last month, IUSA began allowing funding to religious organizations as long as they are registered with the University.

“I am satisfied,” McDowell said. “It is not just about Impact. I see a bigger picture. Religious organizations don’t have to feel intimidated to ask for funding anymore. We contribute to student fees, so we should feel supported. This is going to be great.”

Impact has applied and received IUSA funding before, McDowell said. But IUSA eventually refused to fund the Impact movement because they said there would be religious proselytizing and sectarian activities at the conference, ADF Legal Counsel David Hacker said.

“We sent a letter to the University saying this is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment,” he said. “Thankfully, the University responded in a positive fashion by
removing the ban on funding religious activities. They’ve since asked Impact Movement to resubmit their application for funding.”

McDowell said they re-sent the required information to receive funding but have yet to be reimbursed based on the number of students who attended.

Student fees at IU will be allocated on a viewpoint neutral basis, Hacker said.

“All student groups now have equal access to student fee funding regardless of their religious viewpoints they might express during their activities,” he said. “It is really a great victory for free speech on campus and recognizes that public universities should treat all students, including Christian students, the same as each other.”

Senior Kristina Anderson, co-director of funding for the IUSA funding board, said the funding board has to ensure its policies follow all current case law and regulations.

“Last fall, our guidelines restricted funding some activities, but due to recent legal decisions, we removed those limitations,” she said.

The criteria the funding board uses in making its decisions include location of the event, accessibility to students and use of publicity, Anderson said.

“This new change allows us to serve more IU students by giving more student-run initiatives access to funding,” she said.

A similar situation occurred at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The case, Badger Catholic v. Walsh, went all the way to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the Federal Court of Appeals for Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, Hacker said.

“The ruling said it violates the First Amendment for a university to prohibit student fee funds from going to religious activities,” he said. “It was really a free speech victory and kind of laid the groundwork for encouraging Indiana University to change its policy in this case.”

Dean of Students Pete Goldsmith said IU reviewed its policy as a result of the decision in this case.

“The court case created some new interpretation of the law and funding for student organizations,” he said. “As a result, we reviewed our policy and determined that we needed to make some changes.”

Goldsmith said the denial of funding was a past practice used by many others as well.

“It was a past practice not just used by us but by many others that didn’t allow organizations that asked for money to use that money for sectarian purposes,” he said.

Nicholas Perrino, current IUSA administration’s executive director of legal affairs, said religious organizations on campus will now be able to better express themselves.

“By preventing some organizations from receiving funding, you are giving other areas an advantage because they get funding to express their ideas, whereas these other organizations are discriminated against,” he said. “It is harder for them to express their ideas because they don’t have the funding that these other organizations do. I think the University has recognized this problem, and I think the University has made the right move.”

Will Creeley, director of legal and public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said he is pleased with the outcome as the University can’t pick and choose student groups to receive funding, which is called viewpoint discrimination.

“They should be entitled to the same rights and shouldn’t have less rights because they are affiliated with a religion,” he said. “It is an interesting development. IU is paying attention and doing a good thing by being willing to protect free speech of all students when called to task.”

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