The student chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), and three individual students, have sued the University of Buffalo. They allege university officials and the Student Association are trying to put an end to the student group because of its ties to a national organization called Young America's Foundation.
According to a 26-page federal lawsuit filed Thursday by attorneys with the nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Student Association voted in March to revise its policies for student clubs and prohibited them from being chapters of national organizations.
The complaint alleges that the timing of the revision, together with the fact that the Student Association president sought legal counsel and told the Student Association Senate, "We all know why we're doing this," demonstrates that they were targeting the YAF chapter and its views.
According to the lawsuit, on March 27, the Student Association added the following criteria: "Except for clubs in the Academic, Engineering, or Sports Councils, and clubs whose sole purpose is to engage in inter-collegiate competition, no SA club may be a chapter of or otherwise part of any outside organization."
The YAF decertification came two weeks after the group hosted an event with conservative political commentator, author, and media host Michael Knowles. His appearance "garnered much attention and protests on campus," according to court documents.
The Student Association de-recognized the YAF student group even though the chapter has been well-established and active on the University of Buffalo campus since 2017. The YAF chapter has had more than 100 student members in the past two years. holding weekly meetings on campus, according to the lawsuit.
The decertification also bars the group from receiving the same benefits as other student groups, namely the budget allocated from the university's Mandatory Student Activity Fee. In addition, the group cannot reserve table space in the Student Union or classroom space for its weekly meetings or reserve meeting space for guest speakers, the lawsuit noted.
The YAF lawsuit claims the actions by the Student Association and the university violate the organization's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.
"It has been well-established since at least 1972 that affiliation with a national organization is 'an impermissible basis upon which to deny First Amendment rights' of association to student organizations at public universities. But today, University at Buffalo Staff and the UB Student Association acting under authority from the University have done just that: Defendants have derecognized and barred Young Americans for Freedom from benefits on campus because they are a chapter of a national organization—Young America's Foundation," the lawsuit said.
"Associating with like-minded peers on campus to discuss relevant issues is fundamental to the rights of free speech and exercise that the First Amendment protects," ADF Senior Counsel Caleb Dalton said in a press release.
"But instead of protecting an open and free marketplace of ideas, officials at the University at Buffalo have violated Young Americans for Freedom's constitutionally protected freedom to assemble and speak. Public universities can't punish students because of their political or religious viewpoints or affiliation with a national organization," Dalton added.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the president of the Young America's Foundation said in a statement this is a fight for constitutional rights.
"Universities have a duty to ensure the voices of conservative students are heard and protected," Walker said. "We'll continue to work with our friends at ADF to ensure that's the case for UB YAF. To the college students who are fighting for their constitutional rights on campuses across the country, you are not alone – YAF has your back."
UB Young Americans for Freedom's purpose is to provide an environment for students there to learn about U.S. history, the U.S. Constitution, individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and other topics, according to the ADF.
ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, University at Buffalo Young Americans for Freedom v. University at Buffalo Student Association, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York.
Denis Kitchen, one of more than 4,700 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, is serving as local counsel on behalf of Young Americans for Freedom and the students.
CBN News reached out to the University of Buffalo for comment. In an emailed response, a university spokesman said the university does not comment on pending litigation but sent a statement on the Student Association’s Club Recognition Policy.
“UB’s Division of Student Life is aware of SA’s new club recognition policy and its impact on clubs in the hobby, international, POC, and special interest councils. The Office of Student Engagement is available to meet with impacted clubs to explore alternative recognizing agent opportunities that may help maintain the benefits of university-wide recognition, including the ability to reserve space on campus, table, fundraise and hold a university financial account,” the statement said.
“UB strives to create an environment in which diverse opinions can be expressed and heard. As a public university, it is a fundamental value of UB that all members of the campus community have a right to express their views and opinions, regardless of whether others may disagree with those expressions,” the statement concluded.