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U. Buffalo again targets conservative student group with exclusionary policy: lawsuit

Student government replaced one unconstitutional policy with another, complaint alleges

University at Buffalo’s student government has reworked its group recognition policy in a second attempt to deny official recognition to a conservative student organization, a recently amended lawsuit argues.

The new University at Buffalo Student Association policy requires student group officers to disavow any independent legal status to receive recognition, barring the school’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter from the benefits of recognized status as it sues the school.

Alliance Defending Freedom, representing the UB chapter of YAF, filed an amended legal complaint July 26, challenging the new policy.

“No student organization should have to sign away its ability to vindicate its constitutional rights in court,” ADF Senior Counsel Caleb Dalton told The College Fix in an email.

The policy “now requires student organization leaders to sign away their organization’s rights in order to exist on campus,” Dalton said.

UB YAF declined to comment and referred The Fix to ADF.

The University at Buffalo student government bylaws’ legal status ban states: “Recognized clubs may not enter into contracts, take legal actions, commence litigation or undertake legal obligations. Only SA [Student Association] itself may enter into contracts, take legal actions, commence litigation and/or undertake legal obligations.”

The new rule was established at the UB Student Association Executive Committee on July 3, according to meeting minutes.

Official recognition confers numerous benefits, according to the university website,  including the “ability to reserve/rent space on campus for events and meetings” and the “privilege to conduct fundraising activities on campus.”

Groups recognized by the Student Association also receive “access to funding from the Mandatory Student Activity Fee.”

The new recognition policy replaces a similar, now canceled policy that barred some groups, including UB YAF, from affiliating with national organizations. The conservative students’ original lawsuit, filed in June, had challenged that now-rescinded recognition policy.

That policy stated campus clubs part of any outside organization would not be officially recognized, cutting funding and resources to numerous groups, including YAF. It was enacted in May after UB Young Americans for Freedom hosted conservative speaker Michael Knowles on campus, drawing massive controversy and protest.

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

The amended lawsuit states the student government replaced one unconstitutional requirement with another in a second attempt to ban YAF.

“After Plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction, the Student Association revoked the National Affiliation Ban,” it argues.  “However, the Student Association replaced it with a requirement that student organization leaders certify that they will give up their rights in order to be a recognized student organization.”

The conservative student group is now asking the court to vindicate its First Amendment rights to expressive association, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. UB YAF also seeks a declaration of the legal status ban’s unconstitutionality, an injunction prohibiting its enforcement, and nominal damages and attorney fees.

The University at Buffalo and all parties named in the amended complaint on July 31 have not responded to The Fix’s request for comment.

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IMAGE: YAF/Instagram

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Terrance Kible is a law student at the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Duquesne University. He hopes to pursue a career in journalism. Terrance also writes for the law blog Legal Insurrection, where he was a 2023 College Fix summer intern. Terrance previously wrote for Campus Reform.