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Lawsuit prompts Kennesaw State to end illegal fees, hierarchical caste system for student organizations

 

ATLANTA – Kennesaw State University has agreed to make policy changes to settle a lawsuit that Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed in March on behalf of a student and student group after KSU officials imposed unconstitutional “security fees” for an event featuring conservative speaker Katie Pavlich. The university also agreed to revise its complicated student organization ranking system because it unconstitutionally allowed for preferential treatment of groups that university officials favor.

Just recently, ADF attorneys settled a separate lawsuit against Kennesaw State on behalf of a different student organization over policies that officials used to relegate a pro-life display to a “speech zone” that made up less than 0.08 percent of the 405-acre campus.

“The marketplace of ideas that a university is supposed to be can’t function properly if officials can charge a group ‘security fees’ just because they don’t like what the group is saying, or if officials can provide funding and the best locations only to those sharing ideas that they prefer,” said ADF Senior Counsel Travis Barham. “We commend the university for making the necessary policy changes to respect the constitutionally protected freedoms of its students.”

The new settlement—in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Young Americans for Freedom at KSU and its student president, Zach Bohannon—changes policies that gave university officials complete discretion to impose “security fees” in any amount they decided on any event they deemed “controversial.” The policies resulted in the university charging YAF $320 for the Pavlich event. The new policy clearly outlines when and how security fees can be charged.

In addition, the settlement changes policies that gave officials complete discretion to rank student organizations subjectively into one of four classifications. The tiers functioned as a sort of caste system for preferential treatment on campus, including which of areas of the campus green officials would allow a requesting student organization to use and how much access a group had to funding for activities. Now any student organization is eligible to receive student activity fee funding.

“Kennesaw State’s byzantine speech policies allowed officials to place student organizations into an arbitrary caste system of superiors and inferiors, and to assess security fees that numerous courts in other cases have routinely declared unconstitutional,” Barham explained. “It made no sense for the university to keep those policies, and we are pleased that students will no longer be subject to them.”

The four classifications for registered student organizations at KSU, from the lowest level of privilege to the highest, were “recognized” (where the university placed YAF), “affiliated” (the category the university denied YAF), “sponsored” (which included the Kennesaw Pride Alliance and the African-American Student Alliance), and “chartered” (which included the International Students Association and the LGBTQ Student Programs). The higher the classification, the more access a group had to the best areas of the campus green and to student funding. No faith-based groups were higher than the “affiliated” tier, and no conservative groups were higher than the “recognized” tier.

“You don’t have to know much to see why Kennesaw State’s policies regulating speech in this way were not at all constitutional,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Not only is it important that YAF and all students at KSU be able to exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms, but it’s also vital for the university to live by example in demonstrating the importance of those freedoms instead of communicating to an entire generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter.”

The lawsuit, Young Americans for Freedom of Kennesaw State University v. Harmon, was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

  • Pronunciation guide: Barham (BEAR’-um), Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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