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Conservatives sue student government for deplatforming their campus group

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‘I believe we are being targeted for our viewpoint and offering this alternative viewpoint on campus’

A conservative student group has filed a lawsuit against its student government over a recently adopted policy that effectively cancels the club.

The Young Americans for Freedom chapter at the University at Buffalo filed a lawsuit against school leaders on Thursday over a recent change to the college’s student government policy that will not recognize campus clubs that are “part of any outside organization.”

The policy cuts funding and resources to the school’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter, as well as opportunities to host guest speakers and other perks.

“Unfortunately, instead of protecting an open and free marketplace of ideas, [the student government has] attempted to close the market for students who wish or need to affiliate with others in order to speak and/or amplify their message,” the lawsuit alleges.

The new national-affiliation ban “violates Young Americans for Freedom and its members’ rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” it adds.

The University at Buffalo did not respond to requests for comment from The College Fix.

The new policy was enacted in May after Young Americans for Freedom hosted conservative speaker Michael Knowles on campus, drawing massive controversy and protest. Knowles drew over 600 students despite major protests.

Knowles’ talk had criticized feminism, drawing attempts to shut it down with chants by several people escorted out by security.

The new policy states that “except for clubs in the Academic, Engineering, or Sports Councils, and clubs whose sole purpose is to engage in inter-collegiate competition, no SA club may be a chapter of or otherwise part of any outside organization.”

The change restricts UB YAF and other national clubs, such as Turning Point USA, Sisters in Christ, Amnesty International and Kiwanis International, from gaining recognition as a university club by the Student Association.

However, the change allows for certain national organizations with chapters at the university, such as the International Council, the People of Color Council and the Special Interest Council, to remain as recognized entities on campus.

Justin Hill, UB YAF’s chapter president, said he believes the policy change specifically targets their student organization.

“I believe we are being targeted for our viewpoint and offering this alternative viewpoint on campus,” Hill told The College Fix in an email. “University at Buffalo’s policy violates the First Amendment by discriminating against us just because we are part of a national organization.”

“The even more egregious thing about this policy is that it discriminates against certain groups, including Young Americans for Freedom, that are affiliated with national organizations,” Hill said.

When proposing the new policy, the student body president told the student senate, “we all know why we’re doing this,” alluding to the recent YAF event, which attracted hundreds of protesters, according to Hill.

“On information and belief, this regulation (prohibiting clubs from being chapters of national organizations) was adopted in direct response to Plaintiffs’ association with Young America’s Foundation and was meant to limit Plaintiffs’ ability to effectively communicate on campus,” argued the lawsuit, filed by Alliance Defending Freedom.

“Public universities can’t discriminate against particular groups, but that’s exactly what SUNY Buffalo did and that’s entirely unconstitutional. We are asking the court to step in and correct this violation of the First Amendment and ensure the freedom of all student groups to operate without burdensome restrictions,” Ellie Wittman, a spokeswoman for ADF, said in an email to The College Fix.

Without recognition, UB YAF will not be able to use the university’s name to indicate the location of the organization, access funding from mandatory student activity fee coffers, reserve space on campus for events and meetings, access vendor and lobby tables in the Student Union, apply for temporary office space in the Student Union, or conduct fundraising activities on campus.

“​​The New Club Recognition Policy reeks of guilt by association,” FIRE wrote in a May piece. “The freedom of association protects students’ right to organize around causes, views, or ideas to influence their institutions, communities, and country — even if doing so offends campus leaders.”

Hill told The Fix: “We are committed to taking a stand and protecting the freedom of all students to speak freely and without unconstitutional restrictions on campus.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated to include a statement from ADF.

MORE: U. Buffalo student government to cancel YAF club following Michael Knowles’ speech

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Blake Mauro -- Clemson University