Last night, the Northern Illinois University (NIU) Student Association Senate denied recognition for the second time in six weeks to NIU Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). As a result, SSDP may not meet on campus, post flyers, or even reapply for recognition for two years. As we outline in today's press release, the Senate also denies funding to all "political" and "religious" student organizations, including the Model United Nations, which it labels a "political" group. Meanwhile, groups dubbed "social justice" or "advocacy" groups—including student pro-life, pro-choice, antiwar, women's rights, and victims' rights groups—are eligible for funding.The criteria by which organizations render themselves eligible or ineligible for funding are convoluted.
The football team might have failed to run the table in the Mid-American, but the student senate has achieved a clean sweep.
On November 7, the Senate then issued hopelessly vague definitions of "political" and "religious" groups that guarantee an unconstitutional double standard. Indeed, Advocates for Choice, Campus Antiwar Network, Consumer Education Society, PAVE (Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment), Students for Life (NIU), Vegetarian Education Group, and Women's Rights Alliance are eligible for funding as "Social Justice, Advocacy, and Support" groups, yet funding is denied to the Committee for the Preservation of Wildlife and the Model United Nations, an academic simulation of the UN, because they are classified as "political" groups. Similarly, the Baha'i Club, dedicated to discussion of the Baha'i faith, is eligible as a "Diversity and Cultural" organization, while Campus Crusade for Christ, Hillel, Latter Day Saint Student Association, Muslim Students Association, Newman Catholic Student Center, Pagan Student Association, and many more are not.
Under the new definitions, NIU Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers—currently ineligible for funding—will become eligible. And if the Senate is going to be honest about applying the new definition of a "political" group, a lot of groups will suddenly find themselves reclassified and ineligible for funding. The new definition of a "political" group even prohibits a student group from receiving Activity Fee funding if any of its activities result in any individual, anywhere, "petitioning Federal, State, or Local legislative or executive bodies for policies advocated by that group"-amazingly violating the First Amendment right to petition government for the redress of grievances.
FIRE wrote NIU President John G. Peters on November 18, explaining that the Senate is bound by the First Amendment and that NIU is obligated to step in if the Senate fails to uphold students' rights.
The Student Association Senate might have set a record for the most violations of the First Amendment in a single set of campus funding and recognition policies (there are even more violations, but these are the highlights). Indeed, NIU's Student Association Senate has violated all five of the rights codified in the First Amendment. First, the Senate violated the rights of freedom of speech and assembly by denying recognition to Students for Sensible Drug Policy and byThey're talking about Northern Illinois in Wisconsin, and it's not a comparison of Badger and Huskies bowl prospects.
discriminating against all groups it arbitrarily deems "political" or
"religious." Next, the Senate violates the right to freedom of the press by stating that unrecognized groups are prohibited from posting flyers on campus and that publications—such as magazines and leaflets, the nation's oldest media for freedom of the press—will presumably threaten a group's funding. The Senate's policy also violates the First Amendment religion clauses, since Baha'i, humanist, and atheist groups can receive funding to discuss religious topics, but other religious groups get nothing, in practice favoring some religious groups over others. Finally, perhaps the Senate's most stunning achievement of all was to violate the First Amendment right to petition government for the redress of grievances.