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Miami sued over student organization funding policy
OXFORD, Ohio -- Miami University is the latest public university to be drawn into a nationwide controversy over the allocation of mandatory student activity fees to campus religious groups.
A coalition of four Christian organizations and eleven students filed suit today (Sept. 29) in U.S. District Court, claiming that Miami's procedures for funding religious organizations are unconstitutional. They contend that Miami does not provide equal funding to religious organizations and that students are required to subsidize groups with which they disagree.
Miami officials counter that student organizations are funded fairly and legally and that religious organizations are treated the same as campus political groups. Both may apply to student government for funding for specific educational efforts such as a lecture or a workshop; are eligible for office space; and have access to university facilities. Neither is eligible for general funding because they are primarily engaged in ideological pursuits and the First Amendment prohibits the funding of religious and political activities.
"Two of the student religious groups suing--For the Love of God and Sigma Theta Epsilon--received student fee money last year," said Richard Little, university spokesperson. "This is not about access to funding. It's about using mandatory fees to support religion."
"Just as we don't ask students who are Republicans to pay for a political advertisement by the College Democrats, we don't think it's fair to take money from Catholic students to support a religion other than their own. Nor are academic honorary organizations, which by definition exclude most students, eligible for general funding," said Dean of Students Richard Nault.
University officials at Miami and elsewhere are closely following a lawsuit with precedent-setting potential involving the University of Wisconsin's policies on mandatory student fees. "Not only is this case already in the appellate pipeline, but Miami--under a timetable established two years ago when the current policy was adopted--will review its funding policies for religious and political organizations this year. The plaintiffs were asked to participate and to propose alternate funding models. They chose litigation over working within the system," Nault said.
About $34 per student is collected annually to support more than 120 campus organizations ranging from Advertising, Inc. to the Zoology Club.