Judicial branch said its presence would lead to harassment
On Monday, the president of University of Northern Iowa approved the Students for Life group after an appeal by the pro-life group.
“Universities exist to give students and all members of the university community an opportunity to wrestle with a vast diversity of ideas and opinions,” President Mark Nook said in a emailed statement from the university.
Nook said that “denying [Students for Life] recognition when they intend, in good faith, to engage in lawful activities,” would “deny them their right to free speech and assembly guaranteed to them by the First Amendment.”
The president released a statement explaining his decision. (The decision is dated October 25, but a university spokesperson told The Fix via email that the university decided on October 26 to approve the group).
Students for Life of America had appealed to the University of Northern Iowa’s president to intervene and approve its chapter after both the student government and its Supreme Court denied its request for approval.
The student government first denied the group on October 7, calling it a “hate group.”
Students for Life “is a hate group, [and uses] hate speech [and] hateful rhetoric that is infringing on basic human rights that is healthcare,” student senator Max Tensen said.
The school Supreme Court backed the student government’s decision, ruling that the group was “lacking in evidence of being an equitable, just, and welcoming student organization.”
It ruled that the Students for Life group would violate university rules against “discriminatory harassment,” based on the potential for harassment.
“It is seen through the vagueness and the ties to the national chapter that this organization has the potential to create a hostile environment on the University Campus,” the majority decision said.
It also referenced the student conduct code process which said students have a right to be treated with “dignity and respect.”
“Allowing this organization that openly disregards the rights of women and other subsequent groups is not demonstrating nor upholding this policy,” the majority wrote.
“The majority opinion has predicted actions of UNI Students for Life –sowing unrest on campus and depriving others of their rights — that go far beyond the logical scope of this case,” the dissenting justices said.
“By silencing a group of students who have shown no interest or indication of harming others, the NISG Senate and the Supreme Court majority are robbing these students of their fundamental right to speak freely and assemble as a group,” the dissenting minority said.
As a result, Students for Life had appealed to President Mark Nook to step in and approve the group.
“[W]e expect to have a final decision this week,” university spokesperson Steve Schmadeke told The College Fix via email on October 21.
Schmadeke confirmed that the president’s office received the appeal materials on October 20, but said the president’s office had already begun to review the decision prior to that.
The university had previously told Young America’s Foundation that it had concerns about the denial of the pro-life group by the student government.
“The University of Northern Iowa is committed to protecting our students’ First Amendment rights and is concerned that recent actions by the student government violated UNI policy by rendering a decision that was not content-neutral,” the university told YAF.
It said it had provided the group with resources on how to appeal the decision to the judicial branch.
“UNI will not uphold a decision that violates the First Amendment and university policy,” the university said.
The decisions by student government and the student court “demonstrates that they put their ideological affiliations above fellow students and at the cost of productive dialogue on campus,” Sarah Minnich, the Students for Life regional coordinator for Iowa, said in an emailed statement to The Fix.
“Their decision is unacceptable and should be overturned by the university’s president,” Minnich said.
Minnich said the judicial branch “purposely misrepresented the main goal of the group which is to advocate for the most vulnerable of humans.” She said its members “used their biases to twist the rules against a group that would enhance diversity on campus and bring resources to parents in need.”
“Viewpoint discrimination is a growing threat to free speech on campuses across this country” and “this intolerance will only continue if we do not fight for our rights,” Minnich said.
“Students for Life met all requirements for being approved,” according to UNI Students for Life leader Sophia Schuster.
“I think [student government leaders] have overstepped their role and tried to use their power to silence us just because they disagree,” Schuster said in an email to The Fix.
The president and vice-president of student government did not respond to an emailed request for comment on Friday morning from The Fix seeking further information on the rejection decision.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include the news that President Mark Nook intervened to approve the Students for Life group on Monday, October 26.
IMAGE: Students for Life of America/Facebook