CSU settles Students for Life federal free speech lawsuit, diversity grant discontinued

Seth Bodine

Colorado State University settled a federal free speech lawsuit this summer filed by an anti-abortion student group for not funding an anti-abortion speaker event through a diversity grant.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of CSU Students for Life by attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit organization. CSU settled May 30, giving the group $600 to compensate for funding the speaker. 

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CSU had a diversity grant meant to fund events that enhance the educational and cultural aspects of university and raise awareness of differing perspectives. Student for Life’s proposal was denied because the event did not seem unbiased, and the committee worried attendees from various sides of the issues “won’t necessarily feel affirmed while attending the event.” 

The grant was indefinitely suspended in February to review grant processes. Now it is discontinued, Tyrell Allen, program coordinator of campus activities said. 

“Colorado State University has agreed to drop unconstitutional policies that enabled university officials to deny a student organization’s funding request strictly because of the group’s pro-life views,” ADF wrote in a news release.

Emily Faulkner, the former president of Students for life, decided to file the lawsuit because she believed the grant was subjective and did not truly promote diverse perspectives. While the group was allowed to bring the speaker to campus, but they could not use the diversity grant as a means of funding. 

“The title is the ‘diversity grant’ but it really did not promote true diversity like it said,” Faulkner said. “It was extremely subjective to the people who chose who the grant goes to, so it’s really all their opinion.”

The lawsuit, Students for Life at Colorado State University v. Mosher, states public universities cannot discriminate against student speech in a public forum on the basis of a content or viewpoint. The complaint asked the court to halt the University from applying a double-standard by funding other groups’ speaker events on similar topics.

The complaint also argues CSU has funded other events like the one the students applied for in the past. Since Students for Life pays the same mandatory activity fees as other students in order to fund grants, the lawsuit states the students are entitled to viewpoint neutral access to student fees allocated by the University.

“University officials shouldn’t use mandatory student fees to favor some views while shutting out others,” ADF senior counsel Tyson Langhofer said. “We commend Colorado State for making the necessary changes to ensure that Students for Life, or any other recognized student organization, will not be discriminated against because of their viewpoint when they request funds for speech activities.”

However, Mike Hooker, CSU executive director of public affairs and communications, wrote in an email to the Collegian that the diversity grant was funded by fees collected from businesses participating in the Plaza Bazaar during the first week of classes. No student fees were used in funding the  grant. 

Faulkner, a CSU alumna, said she asked for $600 in damages for being prevented from funding the speaker. The event, titled “Bodily Rights: The Ultimate Abortion Argument,” would have featured Josh Brahm, president of the Equal Rights Institute, a national organization dedicated to training pro-life advocates for dialogue and outreach.

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Faulkner said she hopes the lawsuit leaves the group empowered to continue being involved on campus.

“Hopefully I left something behind for them, like a strength for them to do anything that’s necessary to stand up for their rights on campus,” Faulkner said.

Rebecca Gonsalves, a junior psychology major and current president of CSU Students for Life, said there is a possibility they will bring the speaker to campus in the future. 

“It means a lot for us because we’re able to … get funding like every other group,” Gonsalves said. “So now we are actually equals among other groups.” 

Collegian reporter Seth Bodine can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @sbodine120