Six months ago, Rutgers Law School-Camden’s Student Bar Association (SBA) passed an amendment that forced student groups to promote critical race theory if they wanted to receive student government funding.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sent a letter to Rutgers University, asking them to rescind the requirement, informing the university that such a requirement violated students’ First Amendment rights.
“Rutgers may not condition student organizations’ funding on their willingness to host events that address or promote a specific ideology, as the First Amendment requires that public universities distribute student activity fee funds in a viewpoint-neutral manner,” FIRE wrote.
In a statement, FIRE program officer Zach Greenberg condemned the law school’s actions.
“The Rutgers student government is holding student group funding hostage until students commit to a particular ideology,” Greenberg said. “Students shouldn’t be forced to choose between their club’s funding and their own convictions.”
The requirement was adopted on November 20, 2020, which added a section to the Rutgers’ Camden campus’ constitution entitled “Student Organizations Fosters Diversity and Inclusion.” The section mandated that any student group seeking more than $250 in university funding must “plan at least one (1) event that addresses their chosen topics through the lens of Critical Race Theory, diversity and inclusion, or cultural competency.”
As FIRE noted, 19 out of 22 students groups last fall requested more than $250.
“This puts student clubs in a bind: Should they request the funding they need, even though it would require planning an event — such as hosting a speaker, outing, or mixer — that may be at odds with or unrelated to the group’s own views?” FIRE asked.
Following FIRE’s letter and public pressure, Rutgers-Camden’s Student Bar Association met with university administration officials. Following that meeting, the SBA sent an email to the Rutgers Law community announcing they had rescinded the requirement.
The email, however, struck a tone making it clear that the SBA didn’t want to rescind the order, nor did it seem to have any concerns over the requirement’s unconstitutional demands. The email from the SBA said they “regret to inform” the community that they had to rescind the requirement, due to the “strict deadline” FIRE imposed when requesting a response to its letter, and also due to “the constitutional issues presented.”
“We hate the idea of backing down, just because the ‘other guys’ say so, and we hate that we have to factor in those that oppose measures to foster diversity and inclusion, we do,” the letter said, ignoring the real concerns over critical race theory by claiming this is about some student groups not wanting to include minority students. “We think – and we hope, [sic] we can still create change, still fight for what is right, and pass this amendment, or something similar again. But right now, we know that if we dig our heels in now [sic], this way, we run the risk of never being able to accomplish what we set out to do.”
FIRE responded to the SBA’s claims in its email:
As a public university, Rutgers is bound by the First Amendment, which prohibits discrimination based on viewpoint. The SBA’s amendment was blatantly unconstitutional because it made funding conditional upon the promotion of an ideology and would discriminate against any student group that objects to the “lens” of critical race theory or wishes to remain neutral.
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