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California State University – San Marcos Settles Suit Filed by Pro-Life Student Group for $240K

— February 12, 2020

California State University – San Marcos recently agreed to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by its Students for Life chapter.

In a win for free speech, California State University – San Marcos recently agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the university’s Students for Life chapter. As part of the settlement, the university will pay more than $240,000 in fees and make changes to its policies regarding student fees. The suit was originally filed because the student group claimed the university had discriminated against the it and even censored it. 

Image of the Free Speech Flag
Free Speech Flag; image courtesy of John Marcotte via Wikimedia Commons,

What happened that prompted the suit, though? It all started when, Nathan Apodaca, the president of the school’s Students for Life chapter, “wanted to host a visiting speaker on ‘Abortion and Human Equality’ and cover the person’s travel expenses, approximately $500.” It should be noted that every student pays a “fee toward student groups” to help cover the expenses that Apodaca was looking to have covered. However, Apodaca was prevented from accessing those particular funds “and was told the student fees cannot cover travel costs.” At the same time, the university used student fees to help “fund two community centers, the Gender Equity and the LGBTQA Pride Centers at the cost of nearly $300,000,” according to the lawsuit.

As a result, the student group reached out to Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys in 2017 and together they filed a lawsuit “challenging the school’s discriminatory funding policies, which clearly funded some ideological groups but not others.” Then in August 2019, the university’s policy was struck down by a federal district court and the two parties reached an agreement. 

As part of that agreement, the judge’s order said “Apodaca and the pro-life student group have a First Amendment interest in not being compelled to contribute to an organization whose expressive activities conflict with their own personal beliefs.” The judge later added:

“The undisputed evidence shows Plaintiffs paid mandatory student fees, which may have amounted to compelled speech…The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld that the First Amendment generally precludes public universities from denying student organizations access to schools sponsored forums because of the groups’ viewpoints.”

Shortly after the settlement announcement, Alison Centofante, the director of external affairs at Live Action, chimed in on the matter and said:

“While we are pleased that California State University-San Marcos is revising its policy in the wake of their unconstitutional discrimination against the pro-life club on campus, we must realize it took three years and the litigation of powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom for the administration to come to their senses and respect the First Amendment rights of pro-life students…This revision of policy at California State University, the largest public university in California with almost half a million students and 23 campuses, benefits all students and their ability to engage in the free exchange of ideas.”


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