Lambda Statement on U.S. Supreme Court Decision to Hear University of Wisconsin Student Fees Dispute

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March 29, 1999

(CHICAGO, March 29, 1999) -- The United States Supreme Court Monday agreed to review a case that threatens to sharply curtail student activities at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and at public colleges and universities nationwide. Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund hailed the move as a sign that the Court may eventually vindicate student speech on these campuses.

"The few religious extremists who started this case should not be allowed to dismantle an important avenue for fostering student dialogue and debate because they don't like what some students say," said Patricia M. Logue, managing attorney of Lambda's Midwest Regional Office and co-author of Lambda's friend-of-the-court brief in the case, Board of Regents, University of Wisconsin v. Southworth.

"Campus groups have a long history of sparking campus debate and engaging students in weighing new and contentious ideas. We look to the Supreme Court to stop this narrow-minded assault on a neutral system for supporting campus dialogue," Logue said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit last August sided with three University of Wisconsin law students with extremist religious views who brought the case. The law students have attacked paying mandatory fees that support all campus groups, including those they find "objectionable."

The University collects student fees to support the activities of student groups regardless of their political views or perspectives. Unless overturned, this ruling would allow individual students to block funding for controversial or minority student groups and greatly diminish the range of views expressed on campus.

Said Ruth Harlow, also co-author of the brief and managing attorney at Lambda's New York Headquarters, "Today, the target is our client, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Campus Center, and other student groups whose speech these extremists oppose. Tomorrow, every student group with detractors could lose funding." She added, "By agreeing to hear the case, the Court recognized the gravity of what is at stake here, and we hope the Court will uphold these students' right to freely express their concerns and viewpoints in the campus forum."

Lambda Executive Director Kevin M. Cathcart noted, "Just like we all must pay for a public park, no matter who sets up a soap box there, students can be required to contribute to a university fee system for all student groups, regardless of the recipients."

He added, "The University of Wisconsin at Madison is not alone in collecting fees from all students and reapportioning the funds in an equitable manner to student groups. Public and private universities across the country use similar funding systems because these institutions of higher learning recognize the value and importance of student activities to the overall educational experience."

In a similar student fee funding case, Curry v. University of Minnesota, at the federal district court in Minneapolis, Lambda represents three groups as amici -- the Queer Student Cultural Center, La Raza Student Cultural Center, and University Young Women. Founded in 1973, Lambda is the nation's oldest and largest legal organization serving lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS.

(Board of Regents, University of Wisconsin v. Southworth, et al., No. 98-1189)


Contact: Patricia M. Logue 312-663-4413, ext 30; Peg Byron 212-809-8585, 888-987-1984 pager


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