Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Victory for Pro-Liberty Student Groups in Florida

I was very pleasantly surprised to read this morning that a federal court recently struck down a Florida campaign law requiring nonpartisan groups to register as elections groups on the grounds that it unconstitutionally limits free speech. The law required any group that merely discussed candidates (without endorsements or opposition):
  • Register with the government within 24 hours;
  • Appoint a campaign treasurer or custodian of the books;
  • Designate a depository;
  • Make regular reports of expenditures; and
  • Disclose contributors.
One of the plaintiffs in the case was none other than the University of Florida College Libertarians, a Students For Liberty Affiliate. The suit was brought by one of Students For Liberty's friends, the Institute for Justice. All too often, pro-liberty groups are discriminated against by being denied equal access to resources and held to higher standards than their more well-accepted peer organizations. I believe that this opinion holds wide ranging implications for free speech and pro-liberty student groups around the country.

You can read the full opinion here.

When I ran the Penn Libertarian Association, a non-partisan student organization at the University of Pennsylvania, we were constantly discriminated against by the Student Activities Council. Even though we had no affiliation with the Libertarian Party, did not endorse or oppose either candidates or legislation, but merely advanced the libertarian philosophy on campus, we were denied university funding and often grouped under the same classification as the College Republicans and the College Democrats. This was partly due to a simple misunderstanding of the difference between the small "l" libertarian philosophy and the big "L" Libertarian Party. However, there seemed to be more than that. The Penn ACLU received an annual budget from the Student Activities Council because they were not political, and no matter how many times we tried to explain that we were not a partisan organization, the Council refused to believe us. We were forced to seek assistance from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education who sent a letter to the university criticizing the system, and which has led to significant reform in the university's funding practices. While we won this battle, I know that many other pro-liberty groups are still fighting for equality.

I believe that student groups should invoke this ruling when defending their rights to university funds and access to other resources that have historically been denied to pro-liberty student groups because of their minority status on campus. Next time your organization faces excessive requirements or discrimination from the university because it discusses politics, not only should you contact FIRE, but you should invoke this ruling and challenge those who are denying you equal rights. While the ruling applies to the state, the general principle it supports is that student groups who do not make endorsements and do not lobby should not be treated like partisan organizations and held to the same standards. The rulings says that holding them to the same standard with requirements and restrictions unconstitutionally limits free speech. It is powerful ammunition in the fight for free speech and individual rights on campus. We should all thank the Institute for Justice and the University of Florida College Libertarians for bringing this case forward.

1 comment:

LaMagdalena said...

Good job fighting for your rights to assemble and for your equality in funding! You set an example to be admired :-D