Christian group sues Nebraska university for denying funding of philosopher's lecture on God

Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao
Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao

A Christian student group has filed a lawsuit against the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, accusing the school of wrongfully denying funding for a guest speaker.

The UNL chapter of the international apologetics ministry Ratio Christi filed a lawsuit against UNL last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, alleging that university officials engaged in “viewpoint discrimination.”

At issue is a funding request to host Christian philosopher and Notre Dame Professor Robert Audi for a lecture on whether it is rational to believe in God. The student group requested $1,500 in student activity funding for the event with Audi, who previously taught at UNL for nearly 30 years before his time at Notre Dame. 

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University officials denied the request, the complaint stated. The school allegedly told the students that they would need to invite a speaker to represent the opposite views of Audi to get the funding. The school reasoned that the funding could not be used to promote “speakers of a political and ideological nature," the lawsuit added. 

“Defendants spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in student fees each year to pay for speakers and other events promoting political and ideological viewpoints on topics like sexual orientation, ‘gender identity,’ ‘reproductive justice,’ social justice, police reform, and political activism,” the lawsuit reads. 

“And Defendants do not present opposing viewpoints. … Commonly, the student speech that Defendants fund on those and other topics conflict with the viewpoints held by Ratio Christi, the Student Plaintiffs, and other University Students.”

Michael Ross of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal nonprofit representing Ratio Christi, said in a statement that public universities should foster “an inclusive environment that showcases a variety of viewpoints, not dismiss those with whom the administration disagrees.”

“The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has failed to ensure its student organizations are treated fairly and objectively; it turned down Ratio Christi’s reasonable request because of a blatant bias against its particular religious and ideological viewpoint,” Ross claimed.

UNL spokeswoman Deb Fiddelke said in a statement reported by The Omaha World-Herald last Friday that the university welcomes all viewpoints. She rejected claims of discrimination.

“We have a variety of speakers on our campus, from across the ideological, religious and political spectrum,” stated Fiddelke, adding that there are “many different sources” for event funding and that “Ratio Christi has been previously funded for speakers and events from other funding sources.”

The lawsuit drew the attention of Gov. Pete Ricketts, who called for the university to support “speakers from a wide variety of viewpoints on campus, including Christian speakers.”

“UNL has previously brought in much more controversial speakers, and Dr. Robert Audi and Ratio Christi should be given the same respect,” the Republican governor said in a statement. “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.”

ADF has represented Ratio Christi groups in other cases, including a recent lawsuit against The University of Houston-Clear Lake that claims the school denied official recognition of the student group.

Days after the ADF filed the complaint against the University of Houston-Clear Lake, the university officially registered the Christian group as a student organization.

However, the university maintains that it never denied official status to Ratio Christi and was still processing the application when the lawsuit was filed.  

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