30 October 2018
“Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable raises serious First Amendment concerns.” Thus reads an opinion the Supreme Court issued in June of this year. In the case, a state employee of Illinois, Mark Janus by name, challenged a state law allowing labor unions to charge a fee (an “agency fee”) to workers who are not members.
“Agency fees” are fees charged to non-union members to help fund a particular union, and because unions regularly lobby for and against political issues, these fees effectively fund political speech. And since the government cannot compel people to support speech they disagree with, the Supreme Court ruled that these fees violated the First Amendment.
So what does this have to do with us students? The answer lies with activity fees and student clubs.
Every semester, each of us at UCCS is charged an “activity fee” – a whopping $14 – that’s used to fund various student groups involved in religious, cultural, or political activism. Take Mountain Lions for Life, for example, or Young Democratic Socialists of America. Simply put, there’s a good chance that you’re being forced to contribute to the funding of some group you strongly disagree with. A classic example of government-compelled speech.
Now to tie it all together.
Janus’ ruling overturns an earlier case known as “Abood.” Abood is important because it laid the groundwork for these activity fees. It was Abood that served as the precedent for a separate case that allows state-run universities to demand that students fund groups they disagree with. Now, thanks to Janus, that precedent is gone.
As a result, one student in California has challenged his school’s activity fees, and made it possible for them to be ruled unconstitutional. The fees are already on shaky ground, so if his case reaches a high court, there’s a good chance they could be ruled unconstitutional.
Free speech is sometimes called the most important freedom we have. As such, any protection it receives is something that ought to be welcomed. No one should be compelled to support groups they disagree with, and no student should have to surrender that right when they step on campus. This is something that has long been recognized and upheld.
But there’s a catch. Student activity fees at UCCS currently fund all of our clubs, from the Picnic Club to the College Democrats and Turning Point U.S.A. These funds are used to provide equipment, food and other resources for events, promotional materials, retreats, and the occasional guest speaker. If the fees are ruled unconstitutional, then what? How will our 270 clubs continue to be equipped?
This is a question that must be answered, if it is found that forced activity fees violate the First Amendment. On one hand, you have our protected freedom. On the other, an invaluable resource.