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UNL denies discriminating against Christian group, says it has provided funds
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UNL denies discriminating against Christian group, says it has provided funds

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The University of Nebraska-Lincoln said it regularly welcomes speakers with varying viewpoints to campus after it was accused of discriminating against a Christian student organization in a federal lawsuit.

On Wednesday, Ratio Christi sued the university in U.S. District Court after the Fund Allocation Committee denied its request for $1,500 in student fees to bring a speaker to campus for a lecture on Christian philosophy earlier this year.

According to the lawsuit, the committee said it could not award Event Fund monies to promote "political campaigns, or speakers of a political or ideological nature," and recommended Ratio Christi add another speaker to promote another viewpoint.

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Ratio Christi, which means "the reason for Christ" in Latin, declined that recommendation, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian advocacy group, sued the university, the Board of Regents and several administrators to change the policy.

News of the lawsuit drew criticism from Gov. Pete Ricketts, as well as gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen, who as a member of the Board of Regents is named individually as a defendant in the suit.

"The University of Nebraska-Lincoln should have no problem supporting speakers from a wide variety of viewpoints on campus, including Christian speakers," Ricketts said in a statement.

The governor said UNL has invited "much more controversial speakers" to campus and urged Chancellor Ronnie Green "to step in and define policies to end this kind of discrimination and to send a message that all viewpoints, including Christian values, are welcome."

Pillen said UNL must change its policy if the allegation made by Ratio Christi is true.

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"If any students or student groups didn't have the opportunity to access University Program Council funds because of religious discrimination, that is unacceptable," he said.

After declining to comment earlier this week, UNL reiterated "all viewpoints are welcome," and said it has a variety of speakers on its campus "from across the ideological, religious and political spectrum."

There are several sources of funds the University Program Council uses to pay for those speakers, said Deb Fiddelke, UNL's chief communications officer.

The Fund Allocation Committee, which denied Ratio Christi's application, is a student-led process that oversees a $10,000 Event Fund, part of the $270,000 managed by the University Program Council to bring events to UNL.

Fiddelke said the University Program Council has previously approved funding for two prior Ratio Christi events that brought speakers to UNL since the group organized in 2018.

The money for those events did not go through the Fund Allocation Committee, but through other funds set up to help new registered student organizations "get up and running," Fiddelke added.

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After it was denied money from the Fund Allocation Committee, Ratio Christi paid for Robert Audi, a former faculty member at UNL who now teaches at the University of Notre Dame, to come to campus in April.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to find UNL's policy for distributing student activity fees unconstitutional, and asked that its members be exempt from paying student fees as long as the policy remains in effect.

It also seeks reimbursement for expenses paid to bring Audi to UNL in April, and damages.

Other Ratio Christi chapters have also sued their colleges and universities across the country, including this week at the University of Houston-Clear Lake for allegedly preventing the group from becoming a registered student organization.

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

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS

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