California State University Pays $243,000 to Settle Lawsuit With Pro-Life Student Activists

February 6, 2020 Updated: February 6, 2020
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The California State University (CSU) system and CSU San Marcos agreed to pay $243,000 to settle a lawsuit after a district court judge ruled that the public university unfairly treated a group of student activists because of their pro-life viewpoints.

CSU’s board of trustees and the student government at CSU San Marcos signed an agreement (pdf) with the campus chapter of Students for Life (SFL) and its former president Nathan Apodaca to settle the 2017 lawsuit. According to the settlement terms, CSU will pay $240,000 in legal fees to the students’ lawyers at the conservative advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom and $3,000 in damages to SFL. University officials also pledged to adopt “viewpoint neutral” standards when making funding decisions in the future.

The dispute started when CSU San Marcos’ Associated Students Inc. (ASI) refused to use fees it charged from all students to provide $500 for an SFL event. The event would feature Mike Adams, a prominent anti-abortion commentator and University of North Carolina-Wilmington professor.

Meanwhile, ASI-funded Gender Equity Center and LGBTQA Pride Center together received more than $296,000 for their activities advocating for abortion and LGBTQ rights during the same school year. Alliance Defending Freedom, on behalf of Apodaca and SFL, filed a federal lawsuit against the university for disfavoring conservative groups in its allocation of student fees.

Last year, District Judge M. James Lorenz of the Southern District of California ruled in favor of Apodaca and SFL, saying that CSU San Marcos engaged in viewpoint discrimination against the pro-life student group.

“The Court disagrees with Defendants that the ASI funding process disburses the mandatory ASI fee based on viewpoint-neutral criteria,” Lorenz wrote in a 28-page decision (pdf), adding that under current guidelines, the ASI was given “unbridled discretion to promote or suppress certain viewpoints through the allocation of … funds.”

Lorenz also ruled that CSU San Marcos could not use the mandatory student fees paid by members of SFL to support organizations with opposing views, such as Gender Equity Center and LGBTQA Pride Center, “until specific and detailed standards guiding decision-making is adopted.”

“Public universities should encourage all students to participate in the free exchange of ideas, not create elaborate and secretive funding schemes to award their favored few with first-class status while denying even economy class to opposing views,” Caleb Dalton, Alliance Defending Freedom’s senior counsel, said in a statement. “We’re grateful the district court rejected the university’s unfair, secretive, and discriminatory policy, and that the university has agreed to allocate student fees only in a viewpoint-neutral manner, instead of picking favorites.”