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Editorial: Wisconsin Supreme Court case protects student freedom

Arizona Daily Wildcat,
March 30, 2000
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Last Wednesday the Supreme Court made a decision that affects not only every college and university student in the country, but also their wallets.

While schools like the University of Arizona are not affected by the ruling - as all UA club funding comes through the U of A Bookstore - it nevertheless is one of the most critical issues on university campuses today. With the decision, a student now has no legal grounds to demand a reimbursement of his or her money if, say, it is used to fund an organization they oppose.

Although this will be deemed unfair by many students and groups on college campuses, it is actually a much-needed provision that ensures equality in club funding decisions.

The students at the University of Wisconsin who complained about their money being used to assist such organizations tried to use the First Amendment as their main platform. They believed they were protected from having their hands tied while their money was distributed against their will.

In reality, though, the First Amendment protects the exact opposite. Groups that have "objectionable" platforms should have the same opportunity as every other club to compete for student money.

When the case was brought forward in 1996, Wisconsin students were assessed a mandatory $165.75 fee to be divided up between student clubs of all natures. Students failing to pay this amount were unable to graduate.

While the amount of the fee is fairly lofty, it is necessary to ensure that student clubs - a vital part of college life for many people - have a fighting chance to succeed, regardless of their nature.

Consider for a minute the ramifications if the court had ruled differently on the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin v. Scott Harold Southworth. To begin with, student government officials would not know how much money they were operating with, because students would continually be demanding repayment for funding decisions they disagreed with.

In addition, a different decision would have allowed student body officials to determine which clubs are considered objectionable and subject to possible scrutiny.

To some, this list of "offenders" would include the Young Republicans and Young Democrats, while others would peg gay and lesbian organizations as objectionable. The point is that it would be nearly impossible to get thousands of students to come to a decisive majority on the issue.

All of this would ultimately give a governing body - whether it be student government or college administration - the ability to decide what student groups have a chance to assemble and thrive. Such a decision would boil the mass of varying students and their views down to a sterilized orthodoxy - clearly violating the First Amendment.

Most colleges, like our society, operate on the principles of a democracy. This means that we sometimes have to go along with the majority, even if it conflicts with one's personal beliefs. Students may not necessarily agree with the ideologies or principles of every organization, but they nevertheless have every right to fight for their share of the financial pie.

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