If Your Viewpoint Is “Similar” to Someone Else’s, Should It Be Silenced?

Too much of a “similar” viewpoint is a bad thing, according to officials at the University of California Berkeley. That is, unless it is a favored viewpoint.

No such favor for a group of students who wanted to start a Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter on campus. When they turned in the required form to become a recognized student organization, they were denied. The reason? University officials decided they were “too similar” to another student group on campus, Cal Libertarians, and ordered that YAL work with that group rather than starting their own. YAL is quite different from Cal Libertarians, but that is beside the point—students have the right to associate together without the government favoring some groups over others.

Alliance Defending Freedom is representing YAL in a lawsuit against UC Berkeley, as its current policies allow university officials to exclude certain viewpoints from campus, while promoting others. Take these existing student organizations for instance:

  • “Cal Berkeley Democrats” and “Students for Hillary at Berkeley”
  • “Progressive Student Association” and “Socialist Alternative at Berkeley”
  • The “Queer Alliance & Resource Center,” the “Queer Student Union,” and the “UNITY Resource Center”

These groups have overlapping missions and goals. Yet, university officials recognized all of them (as well they should) while excluding YAL.

As currently written, the university policies give unchecked power to university officials to decide which viewpoints are “too similar” and which are not – allowing them to welcome the viewpoints they favor and exclude the ones they don’t like.

This effectively silences the speech of some student groups. Since YAL is not officially recognized on campus, it cannot book meeting space, invite speakers, or use the channels of communication reserved for registered student organizations. YAL also cannot apply to receive student funding, even though every member of the group pays mandatory student fees.

That’s a violation of students’ First Amendment rights, and the ADF Center for Academic Freedom is working to ensure that this is not allowed to continue.

After all, university campuses should be a place where students can encounter any number of differing viewpoints and learn how to interact with them in a constructive way. If their university is setting a poor example of this, however, students learn that the proper way to deal with the viewpoints they don’t like is to silence them.

But if university policies promote a correct understanding of the First Amendment, students will be able to carry that understanding with them as they leave college and enter the public square.