The University of Florida is paying $66,000 and making policy changes to settle a federal lawsuit brought by a young conservative student group, which claimed the school violated its members’ free-speech rights.
The Young Americans For Freedom (YAF) chapter agreed to settle its lawsuit against the university Wednesday in exchange for eliminating the policies that prohibited the group from receiving speaker fees to bring in conservative speakers.
“We’re extremely proud to announce that free speech and the U.S. Constitution won on UF’s campus,” the group wrote on Facebook.
Filed in December, the lawsuit alleged the university discriminated against the chapter during the disbursement of student fees.
The chapter, aided by Alliance Defending Freedom, was a non-budgeted campus organization that frequently helped organize on-campus speaking engagements for conservative commentators including Ben Shapiro and Dinesh D’Souza.
When the group requested to become a fully budgeted student organization, UF’s Student Government denied its request. A code revision was then passed at the time barring non-budgeted groups from requesting money for speaker fees.
UF requires students to pay a mandatory Activity and Service Fee, which is allocated to fund student expression. But by barring YAF’s speaker fee request, the school was discriminating against YAF and other non-budgeted groups, according to the lawsuit.
Students pay $19.06 per credit per semester, according to the lawsuit.
“Under this new policy, budgeted student organizations can advocate for their own viewpoints both directly and by bringing in guest speakers, but non-budgeted student organizations cannot obtain funding to similarly express themselves,” the complaint stated.
The organization argued that the policy change specifically targeted their viewpoints because no other non-budgeted group had hosted a speaker at UF in recent years.
That policy was changed in June, as part of this week’s settlement, to require the approval of all requests that meet “viewpoint-neutral” criteria. If the request surpasses the available funds, the school will distribute the money on a first-come, first-serve basis with “proportional distribution” if requests come in at the same time.
“UF and YAF have reached a mutually agreeable resolution of the lawsuit after determining it was in the interests of both parties to do so,” UF said to the Miami Herald in a statement.
Sarah Long, one of the lawsuit plaintiffs who was YAF president at the time, said she is happy with the settlement.
“We hope that the changed policies we achieve through this lawsuit will mean that diverse viewpoints are better represented in the marketplace of ideas at UF,” Long said in a written statement through her attorney. “And we hope it makes both students and administrators think about the value that free speech (whether we agree with it or not) brings to society, because universities should be encouraging free speech and diversity of thought, not shutting down groups they disagree with.”
The university’s $66,000 settlement fee will include payment to the chapter in damages for denying its speaker fees fund request, a reimbursement of student fees paid by two YAF members under the school’s old policy, and the group’s attorneys’ fees.