The student body at Texas A&M University has a reputation for its conservative bent. It's even been reported that more of the school's graduates enter Christian ministry than their peers at the Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated Baylor University, about 90 miles to the northwest.
So it came as a surprise when school officials denied the Texas Aggie Conservatives funding from a school account established to help pay for student organizations' activities. The organization has responded with a lawsuit charging the denial violated its constitutional rights.
The Texas Aggie Conservatives needed $6,800 to host a February speaking engagement featuring black social conservative Star Parker. The group's leaders requested $2,500 from Student Organization Funding to offset the cost. Officially recognized student organizations have access to the account for special events and general budget funding.
But according to Texas Aggie Conservatives and their attorneys, the school limits access to the money based on indefensible restrictions. All recognized organizations are eligible for the funds as long as they're not formed for religious, social or political purposes. Sports clubs and groups tied to the student center and health science center also are barred from requesting funds.
David Hacker, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which represents the Texas Aggie Conservatives, questioned the limitations of the funding, saying the school "has to provide those funds on a viewpoint-natural basis."
The ADF filed a lawsuit June 19 against Texas A & M University (TAMU), challenging the funding restrictions as a violation of the students' First Amendment rights.
TAMU spokesman Lane Stevenson could not discuss the issue, saying only that the university refrains from commenting on pending legal matters. Texas Aggie Conservative leaders referred all questions to their attorney.
Hacker said the university's policy was not only unconstitutional but inconsistently applied. Other student organizations, including the NAACP, the Muslim Student Association, the Black Student Alliance, and TAMU V-Day, which hosts "The Vagina Monologues," a racy stage play, all received money from the fund.
Hacker said the students with Texas Aggie Conservatives discovered the discrepancies. They also discovered the school had denied funding to Christian fraternity Beta Upsilon Chi.
Hacker said his clients do not want the school to deny funding to any group but believe all official student organizations should benefit from the money.
"The policy allows the university to allocate resources at its discretion, without any clearly defined criteria or stands," Hacker said in an ADF press release. "As a result, the university has the power to unconstitutionally favor the speech of some groups over others."
Hacker told World on Campus the ADF filed suit in a similar case three years ago at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A Catholic student group had requested similar funding and was denied because the organization hosted weekly worship and discussion forums. The school also cited students' "advocacy," or proselytizing, as grounds for denial, Hacker said.
The case was recently settled in the students' favor.
At Texas A & M University, the student fund is established by the Student Organization Advisory Board, the Department of Student Activities and The Association of Former Students. Funds are limited and are meted out by an application and evaluation process, according to the school's website.
The Texas A & M University suit comes on the heels of an ADF campaign challenging unconstitutional policies on 160 U.S. college and university campuses. (See previous story)
Resources will always be limited on college campuses, said ADF attorney Greg Scott. But they cannot be dispersed based on a set of criteria other than what is afforded all Americans in the First Amendment, he said: "Unfortunately the university campus has become one of the most hostile environments for free speech, especially for Christians and conservatives."