- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

''To compel a man to provide funds for the propagation of views he finds abhorrent is sinful and tyrannical," said Thomas Jefferson. And at first glance the recent, unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court that public universities are not violating the First Amendment by using mandatory student fees to finance campus organizations (and speakers) that some students may oppose or find offensive would appear to violate Jefferson's edict.

But there is a fact that makes the practice common among American universities and colleges pass muster with the spirit of Jefferson. That fact is that attending any given university or college is a voluntary choice. There are typically rules and practices of one sort or another that are part of the deal. One is only required to pay the fees if one chooses to join the university community.

"It is not for the court to say what is or what is not germane to the ideas to be pursued in an institution of higher earning," wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Quite so. Provided the funds collected from students are disbursed in an equitable and balanced manner that is, to expose the students to a wide range of viewpoints, both left and right the practice is neither a violation of First Amendment freedoms, nor an assault on the values and beliefs of students. To expect a consensus of opinion or to require that no student is "offended" by a speaker or group before any student fees may be disbursed is both impractical and silly.

"Today's ruling is a total victory for the First Amendment. It is clearly desirable for students on university campuses to hear from many different viewpoints and to be able to express the views they hold important," said Wisconsin's Attorney General James E. Doyle. The lawsuit at issue involved the University of Wisconsin and conservative students who objected to the university's practice of using student funds to support various groups and speakers, many of them politically liberal.

But for the reasons enumerated above reasons validated by the Supreme Court students' freedoms are not in jeopardy. Conservatively inclined students can choose a university or college more reflective of their views; liberal students may do the same. Neither should be afraid of being exposed to ideas with which they may disagree. After all, isn't that part of what going to college is all about? The important thing is that the funds be distributed equitably and not disproportionately to left-wing groups or speakers. Mr. Southworth and other conservative students had a legitimate gripe there. But that is not so much a First Amendment issue as it is an issue for college and university authorities, and for students who have the right to organize activities according to their own values and beliefs.

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