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University of Florida scraps policy that defunded conservative group to settle lawsuit

UPDATED

After Young Americans for Freedom brought conservative speaker Dinesh D’Souza to the University of Florida, the student government retaliated by putting the student group in a category where it couldn’t pay invited speakers, according to a December lawsuit.

Seven months later, the taxpayer-funded institution agreed to pay $66,000 and revise the policy that created “budgeted” versus “non-budgeted” student groups, according to a settlement announced Thursday.

Non-budgeted groups are required to seek funding for each event they want to host. The category also bans the funding of honoraria from either student activity fees or outside funds. YAF said it was the only non-budgeted group to seek funding to pay speakers in the past two years.

Budgeted groups, including those that brought in progressive speakers, have no restrictions on their use of student activity fees, which are mandatory. In other words, YAF members alone were obligated to pay fees that they couldn’t access as a student group. This amounted to a violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the group argued.

The student government revised the so-called 800 code in June, which is 45 pages long. It replaced the discretion that allowed it to deny funding based on viewpoint with viewpoint-neutral criteria.

In the case of requests that exceed funding, the policy enacts a first-come, first-served model “with proportional distribution if the requests come in at the same time,” according to YAF’s lawyers at the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“The university’s $66,000 settlement fee will include payment to YAF in damages for the denial of their funding requests for speakers’ fees” to bring in conservative activists Dana Loesch and Andrew Klavan, the alliance said.

“The amount will also reimburse the student fees paid by two YAF members under the old policy and cover costs and attorneys’ fees,” it said. The alliance is the designated recipient in the settlement.

A spokesperson for the alliance told The College Fix that YAF itself will receive $6,250 for denial of its funding requests for speaker fees. Sarah Long and Daniel Weldon will receive $750 each for student fees paid under the old policies. The alliance is keeping $58,250 in costs and attorneys’ fees.

“We commend the University of Florida for correcting its policies that treated students differently because of their beliefs,” spokesperson Spencer Brown said in the alliance release. “YAF chapters engaged in similar battles can now look to UF YAF as trailblazers in the fight for First and 14th Amendment rights on campus.”

Read the settlement and release.

UPDATE: The alliance gave The Fix a breakdown of the payments from the settlement. They have been added.

MORE: YAF sues U. Florida for political bias in ‘non-budgeted’ designation

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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