Young Americans for Freedom v. University of Florida
Description: The University of Florida failed to distribute money collected from mandatory student fees to student organizations in a fair, viewpoint-neutral manner, prompting a lawsuit from the Young Americans for Freedom chapter on campus.
Lawsuit prompts University of Florida to change policy, distribute funds fairly
“Public universities are uniquely expected to be a free marketplace of ideas, not an assembly line for one type of thought,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “Thankfully, in response to this lawsuit, the University of Florida recognized the errors embedded within its policies by adopting changes that no longer force YAF members to pay into a system that funds opposing viewpoints and discriminates against their own. While students shouldn’t have to file a federal lawsuit to vindicate their rights, we’re grateful that the university quickly suspended its discriminatory policy this past spring and worked closely with us to meet our clients’ goals and respect their freedoms protected by the First Amendment.”
Under the previous policy, the university required students to pay a mandatory activity and service fee that is used to fund student organizations’ expression, but the school allowed the student government to deny YAF and other groups equal access to those funds. The university denied YAF funding to bring in conservative speakers even though it granted funding to other organizations to bring in progressive speakers. The lawsuit, Young Americans for Freedom v. University of Florida, challenged the policy that granted the student government free rein to allocate funds from mandatory student fees to certain student groups for advocacy that the student government favored.
As part of the settlement agreement, the student government eliminated the policy that granted it discretion to deny funding and instead enacted a policy requiring approval of all requests that meet viewpoint-neutral criteria. If requests surpass available funding, funds are to be distributed on a first-come-first-served basis, with proportional distribution if the requests come in at the same time.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s voters and civic leaders,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “That’s why it’s so important that public universities exemplify the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students.”
“The University of Florida YAF chapter deserves the same equal access to university resources as every other student organization on campus,” said YAF Spokesman Spencer Brown. “We commend the University of Florida for correcting its policies that treated students differently because of their beliefs. 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. YAF is grateful our lawsuit remedied this shameful inequity at the University of Florida and reminds all colleges that they ought to be on notice: If you violate students’ rights, you will be sued.”
The university’s $66,000 settlement fee will include payment to YAF in damages for the denial of their funding requests for speakers’ fees. The amount will also reimburse the student fees paid by two YAF members under the old policy and cover costs and attorneys’ fees. Russell LaPeer, one of nearly 3,400 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel for the YAF chapter in the case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
- Pronunciation guide: Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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Caleb Dalton serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he plays a key role at the Center for Academic Freedom. Since joining ADF in 2013, Dalton has served on multiple teams representing private individuals and government entities to affirm the fundamental freedoms of speech and religious liberty. In 2017, he joined the Center for Academic Freedom where he has represented clients seeking to speak freely on campus without fear of unconstitutional government censorship. Dalton earned a J.D. at the Regent University School of Law, graduating cum laude. He is a member of the bar in Arizona, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; he is also admitted to practice before multiple federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tyson Langhofer serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and director of its Center for Academic Freedom. Before joining ADF, Langhofer was a partner with Stinson Leonard Street LLP, where he worked as a commercial litigation attorney for 15 years and earned Martindale-Hubbell’s AV Preeminent® rating. Langhofer earned his Juris Doctor from Regent University School of Law, where he graduated cum laude in 1999. He obtained a B.A. in international business with a minor in economics from Wichita State University in 1996. A member of the bar in Virginia, Kansas, and Arizona, Langhofer is also admitted to practice in numerous federal district courts.