The University of Northern Iowa is reversing the student government’s controversial decision to bar recognition of an anti-abortion group that senators said was hateful.
UNI’s president said the ban would violate the First Amendment if it was allowed to proceed.
“Neither the University nor [Northern Iowa Student Government] NISG endorse any student organization’s viewpoints by approving them as student organizations,” President Mark A. Nook wrote in a ruling released Monday. “By denying them recognition when they intend, in good faith, to engage in lawful activities, we deny them their right to free speech and assembly guaranteed to them by the First Amendment.”
Students for Life of America sent its appeal to Nook last week after the student Supreme Court upheld the ban and argued that the group’s UNI chapter would “violate a university policy guaranteeing the “right to be treated with dignity and respect by all persons involved in the student conduct process.”
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In a statement, UNI said Students for Life of America “had met all the criteria to become a registered student organization.”
The issue emerged after Young America’s Foundation, a conservative nonprofit, posted footage from a Zoom meeting in which student senators likened SFLA to White supremacists and argued they were a hate group whose rhetoric was “infringing on basic human rights.”
“I would argue that not all opinions are equal, there are opinions and there are opinions that get people killed” student Senator Triet Ngo said.
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It was just one in a long line of controversies surrounding conservative viewpoints on campus. For example, Young America Foundation previously published an Iowa State University professor’s syllabus, which threatened to dismiss students who opposed abortion or Black Lives Matter.
On Monday, UNI reaffirmed its commitment to free speech on campus.
“Universities exist to give students and all members of the university community an opportunity to wrestle with a vast diversity of ideas and opinions,” Nook said.
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, applauded the decision in a statement released by the organization.
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“Viewpoint discrimination is both unconstitutional and undemocratic, as the free marketplace of idea is designed to allow for citizens to share their views,” she said. “For the Pro-Life Generation, a conversation on the human rights issue of our day – abortion – is demanded of all those who care about how our society has devalued life based on location. Whether in the womb, at the border, or in any city in America, preborn life matters and deserves legal protection.”