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Christian student group sues UNL for discrimination in student fee policies
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Christian student group sues UNL for discrimination in student fee policies

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A Christian student organization is suing the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in federal court after it was denied access to student fees to bring a speaker to campus.

Ratio Christi — a Latin phrase meaning "the reason for Christ" — said a student-led Fee Allocation Committee denied its request for $1,500 in funding from an account created for student organizations.

The lawsuit, which names all eight members of the NU Board of Regents, as well as system and campus administrators, was filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday.

The registered student organization, which is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, started at UNL in 2018, part of more than 150 ministries around the globe focused on the "historical, scientific, and philosophical reasons to believe Christianity is true."

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Members of the group had applied for $1,500 in University Program Council funds distributed through UNL's student government to bring Robert Audi, a former UNL faculty member who now teaches at the University of Notre Dame, for a talk in April.

Audi's lecture was titled: "Is Belief in God Rational Given the Evils of This World? A Christian Philosopher Responds to the Most Popular Argument Against God."

The University Program Council, which is responsible for distributing $270,000 in funds collected from student fees this year, denied the request, according to the lawsuit, stating it had concerns "about the nature of the event."

According to the lawsuit, a member of the committee told Ratio Christi the Event Fund, which allocates student fees to registered student organizations, could not be used "to finance political campaigns, or speakers of a political or ideological nature."

The committee recommended Ratio Christi add another speaker to promote a different perspective — something the organization said it did not wish to do.

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"Our goal as a Christian organization is to offer a Christian academic perspective to students who may not have encountered it before," a member of Ratio Christi responded. "We didn't intend for this event to be a debate, but more of an introductory explanation of a particular philosophical position."

The group brought Audi to UNL on April 27, with members paying for the event themselves.

The lawsuit states other registered student organizations have received event funds to bring "speakers of a political and ideological nature" to campus without requiring opposing viewpoints.

Ratio Christi pointed out speakers such as Bill Nye, a popular science communicator and television personality, to talk about climate change; Jim Obergefell, a plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case that recognized same-sex marriage; and Laverne Cox, a transgender actor, have appeared in University Program Council-sponsored events at UNL.

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The lawsuit also takes aim at the policies of the university, which it said are vague, undefined and "subject to a range of interpretations" that allow for groups to be discriminated against.

The Alliance Defending Freedom has represented Ratio Christi in other lawsuits against universities across the country, including in Colorado and Georgia.

Earlier this week, the organization sued the University of Houston-Clear Lake for allegedly excluding Ratio Christi from becoming a registered student organization.

Gregg Walters, a senior attorney at the Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a news release UNL has a responsibility to protect the freedom of speech on its campus.

"Today's college students are the future leaders of our country, which is why it is critical that universities model our First Amendment values," Walters said.

A UNL spokeswoman declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

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The complaint asks a federal judge to find UNL's system of allocating student activity fees, its campus speakers policy and event fund policies in violation of the First and Fourteenth amendments.

Ratio Christi said it plans to apply once again to the University Program Council for event fund monies to bring in David Bagget, a professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University, to campus in February.

To do so, it asked for a court for an injunction on the current event fund distribution policies.

It also asked a court to prohibit UNL from charging student fees to its members as long as those policies remain in effect, and award the student group reimbursement for expenses paid, as well as damages.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS

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