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|NUMBER 152||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||SEPTEMBER 1998|
Five University of Wisconsin students brought suit because portions of their $331.50 annual activities fees were being distributed to student groups and organizations whose views they do not support, and whose beliefs are in conflict with their own. These groups - including the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Campus Center; the UW Greens; the Madison AIDS Support Network; the Campus Women's Center; and Amnesty International - use the funds for lobbying legislators, producing voter guides, and other political advocacy activities.
The three-judge panel found that the students' right to "freedom of belief" outweighs that of "any governmental interest." The judges concluded that the university's funding of private organizations engaged in political activities is not relevant to its "educational mission," and that even if it were, there would still be "no vital interest in compelled funding."
According to the Northstar Legal Center, which represented the five students, the panel's finding is in line with court decisions of the past two decades that have moved toward forcing state colleges to change their disbursement procedures for student activities fees. Attorney Jordan Lorence called the ruling "very significant" for students' rights, and said the University of Wisconsin would be "the first big domino to fall."
Observers say the decision will probably not change the number or political slant of campus groups, but will likely trigger administrative headaches. Affected colleges will have to devise a means for determining what groups individual students want their fees to support.