Drug War

NIU Student Government Concedes That Even Controversial Groups Have First Amendment Rights


Last December I noted that Northern Illinois University President John R. Jones III had officially recognized the NIU chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, overriding the Student Association Senate's determination that SSDP was too "political" to use campus facilities or receive activity fee funding. Jones was responding to a letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which pointed out the First Amendment problems with refusing to recognize SSDP because of its advocacy. That decison was based on a vague, inconsistently applied policy of barring "political" and "religious" groups, lest they offend the students whose fees provide funding for campus organizations. This week, having taken a crash course on the constitutional obligations of public universities, the Senate approved a new, viewpoint-neutral policy regarding student groups. Adam Kissel, FIRE's vice president of programs, comments:

No student government at a public university may reduce or deny student activity fee funding to a student group because its expression might trouble, offend, or embarrass the student government, The student government may not base recognition or funding decisions on a group's political or religious views. FIRE will be watching to ensure that NIU maintains viewpoint neutrality and meets its constitutional obligations.