Ratio Christi lawsuit ends in a settlement.
Ratio Christi is a student Christian group that seeks to “advance, teach, and defend Christian beliefs.” In October 2021, Ratio Christi filed a lawsuit against the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) after the school refused to grant the group’s request of $1,500 in student activity funding to bring in Notre Dame professor Robert Audi for a lecture on whether it’s rational to believe in God. The school said it could not promote “speakers of a political and ideological nature” and said the Christian organization that it would need to invite a speaker to represent the opposite views of Audi to get the funding.
On Dec. 15, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced two university officials agreed to accept a court judgment against them in the amount of $1,500 for denying the club’s funding request. The university paid $25,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs and changed its policy on how it distributes student fees to student organizations “to promote the availability of diverse viewpoints to UNL students” and ensure allocation of funding is done in a “viewpoint neutral manner.”
The lawsuit drew the attention of Gov. Pete Ricketts, who urged the university to support “speakers from a wide variety of viewpoints on campus, including Christian speakers.” He said, “UNL has previously brought in much more controversial speakers, and Dr. Robert Audi and Ratio Christi should be given the same respect. I urge University of Nebraska Chancellor Ronnie Green to step in and define policies to end this kind of discrimination and to send a message that all viewpoints, including Christian values, are welcome.”
In response to the favorable settlement, ADF Senior Counsel Gregg Walters said, “Today’s college students are the future leaders of our country, which is why it is critical that universities model our First Amendment values.” ADF also filed a lawsuit against The University of Houston-Clear Lake, arguing that the school denied official recognition of Ratio Christi, prompting the university to officially register the Christian group as a student organization.
Last year in 2021, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in favor of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship after they were deregistered by the University of Iowa due to their requirement of leadership roles to affirm a statement of faith. The court determined this to be “viewpoint discrimination” as other organizations were allowed to choose criteria such as sex, race and ideology when selecting club leadership.
The ruling served as a warning to university officials that they can be held personally responsible for enacting or enforcing unconstitutional policies. The ADF then recommended student groups to write constitutions and bylaws, which would specifically define who can participate, who can be a member and who can be a leader.
As of this time, Ratio Christi has been successful in advocating for Christian beliefs on college campuses and has been successful in obtaining sympathetic court rulings in their favor. These recent rulings indicate that universities must ensure that student organizations are treated fairly and objectively. To avoid similar lawsuits, the schools must not discriminate against any particular religious or ideological viewpoint.