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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Young Americans for Freedom chapter sues UF over claims of free speech violations

<p><span id="docs-internal-guid-47c33ff6-4c7b-f0b3-38fd-d503fbaec700"><span>Daniel Weldon, a 20-year-old UF political science sophomore and the president of Young Americans for Freedom, stands in front of a commemorative wall for the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on the Plaza of the Americas on Wednesday afternoon. Weldon said the event celebrated the triumph of freedom from socialism.</span></span></p>

Daniel Weldon, a 20-year-old UF political science sophomore and the president of Young Americans for Freedom, stands in front of a commemorative wall for the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on the Plaza of the Americas on Wednesday afternoon. Weldon said the event celebrated the triumph of freedom from socialism.

A lawsuit has been filed against the UF Board of Trustees over claims that the university is denying free speech to conservative students.

Young Americans for Freedom at UF filed the federal lawsuit last Friday, Dec. 21 against UF with help from Young America’s Foundation, the group’s parent organization, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit, according to Young America’s Foundation’s website.

The lawsuit claims that UF is violating the first amendment rights of students in the Young Americans for Freedom chapter on campus, according to the court document.

The complaint was issued in response to a policy that was introduced last Spring by UF Student Government, said Spencer Brown, the spokesperson for Young America’s Foundation. Under this policy, the university separates student groups into one of two categories: budgeted and non-budgeted.

“This new process is not transparent and unfairly discriminates against who can actually practice free speech,” Brown said.

The university denied the Young Americans for Freedom chapter funding during the Fall 2018 semester to host Dana Loesch, a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, and Andrew Klavan, a conservative author, Brown said.

The policy only allows budgeted student groups to automatically receive annual activity fee funding for their organizations. This funding can be used by budgeted student groups to pay speaker fees, Brown said.

Non-budgeted student groups have to request funding from the university for each event they want to hold and are not guaranteed to receive it, Brown said.

The policy states that non-budgeted groups are also banned from using student activity fee funding to pay for a guest speaker’s fee, according to the lawsuit. These restrictions are not enforced for budgeted groups.

In order to be recognized as a budgeted group, an organization must meet certain guidelines and receive approval from UF Student Government. These guidelines include being officially registered with the UF Department of Student Activities and Involvement, not charging membership fees and having at least 20 active members, according to UF Student Government codes.  

“Administrators get to determine who actually gets to enjoy free speech and who doesn’t,” said Brown,  “The system has created a situation where conservative student groups are financially crippled.”

This policy has prevented students within the conservative group from receiving funding for speakers with conservative ideas, said Blake Meadows, the attorney representing Young America’s Foundation.

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“What matters is providing a free marketplace of ideas,” Meadows said. “The university is required to provide that.”

The Young Americans for Freedom chapter has been recognized by UF for two years. The chapter has attempted to become a budgeted student group to receive annual funding, but UF Student Government has denied their ability to apply, Brown said.

Emily Dunson, the SG Budget and Appropriations chairwoman, declined to comment.

UF spokesperson Margot Winick said that because the university is closed for the holidays, she could only provide a brief statement on behalf of the university.

“The University of Florida is committed to upholding the First Amendment right to free speech and promoting a campus community that is open to all points of view,” according to the statement.

Contact Taylor Roth at troth@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @Taylor__Roth.

 

Daniel Weldon, a 20-year-old UF political science sophomore and the president of Young Americans for Freedom, stands in front of a commemorative wall for the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on the Plaza of the Americas on Wednesday afternoon. Weldon said the event celebrated the triumph of freedom from socialism.

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