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Northern Illinois University Student Association Senate violates students’ 1st Amendment rights

If you’re not familiar with the concept of official student groups at state universities, here’s how it works in most cases….

A group of students can get together and form an organization (which may or may not be connected to a national organization) and get approved as an official student group (usually by submitting a set of by-laws, list of officers and getting a faculty advisor). Once approved, the group usually gets certain benefits, such as being able to check out university rooms for free for meetings and events, being able to promote their events and meetings through a variety of means on campus, and have the ability to apply for student fee money for the purpose of providing programming or other activities that are open to the student body as a whole.

Since state universities are government entities, they cannot by law discriminate based on viewpoint.

Northern Illinois University has an odd system. They differentiate between political organizations (campus Republicans and Democrats) and social advocacy organizations (including such things as anti-war organizations and pro-or-anti abortion groups). Political organizations are not allowed to apply for funds, but get the other benefits of being a student organization, social advocacy organizations can also apply for funds.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy was established as a social advocacy organization at NIU but was told by members of the student government, who apparently didn’t agree with their message, that they should apply as a political organization. The SSDP members felt that was wrong and that they shouldn’t be denied the option of applying for funding, so they went ahead and applied as a social advocacy organization. The NIU Student Association Senate denied their application completely, so now SSDP cannot even meet on campus.

Press release from SSDP

“It’s clear that the NIU Student Association Senate is incapable of fairly imposing its policies on student groups and after speaking with lawyers and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), we believe that the NIU Student Association Senate is in violation of the First Amendment,” explained Jonathan Perri, Associate Director at SSDP. “Unfortunately, it also seems that some members of the Senate are simply opposed to SSDP’s mission to promote an open and rational discussion about alternatives to current drug policies, including marijuana legalization, and that this may be the basis for their decision.”

SSDP has been an important voice of reform in this country (and internationally) by involving young people in issues of extreme importance. Just downstate at Illinois State University, where I function as faculty advisor for the SSDP chapter, the group is well received in the university community and their Constitutional rights are protected by both the student government and upper administration.

The student government at NIU is shooting themselves in the foot. They should welcome the debate that SSDP brings, and they should eliminate the bizarre and impractical distinction between political and social advocacy groups.

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10 comments to Northern Illinois University Student Association Senate violates students’ 1st Amendment rights

  • Chris

    SSDP has been an important voice of reform in this country (and internationally) by involving young people in issues of extreme importance. Just downstate at Illinois State University, where I function as faculty advisor for the SSDP chapter, the group is well received in the university community and their Constitutional rights are protected by both the student government and upper administration.

    I’ve never heard you mention this before.

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  • Nick

    Let’s hope the youth see the paint through the tar and feathers Pete. There is a goal line.
    Sometimes I think I’m too old for the next generation that can make a difference. I’m not dead yet. Great post!

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  • Cannabis

    Good group. Thank you for being the faculty advisor for the SSDP chapter, Pete.

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  • Brandon E.

    how disheartening. is there no way they can appeal the decision?

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  • darkcycle

    Pete, I had the same experience thirty-some years ago at Bradley University. Different group, different time, but the exact same thing happened to us. We called ourselves “The Progressive Student’s Alliance” the org. was to be a part of the Progressive student’s network. It’s job was to work for progressive social causes (like the E.R.A., which was our first organized lobbying effort). But we were called a political organization and excluded. Our faculty advisor, Zeef Gorin (R.I.P. Zeef,)wasn’t one to be excluded based on a name. Our solution (It only worked once) was to come back as Pi Sigma Alpha, a FRATERNAL organization, and part of the national organization “Pi Sigma Nu”. We got money (alot more money than they EVER would have given us as PSA) that year. We used that money to bring Angela Davis to campus to speak, that was where I met Dr. Davis for the first time. Then we were allowed to re-apply as the Progressive Student’s Alliance and we got funding on the promise Zeef wouldn’t do anything like that again. Lol. Best story ever and it’s true.

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  • Red Alert Red Alert....

    http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/384192/federal_officials_threaten_crackdown_on_medical_pot_growers/#paragraph3

    Looks like the feds are going to crack down. They say they are going to deal with some ‘Gray areas’ in state laws concerning Med pot. Humm…..seen this coming some time ago. They could determine ‘gray areas’ as anything, seeing how growing and possessing any pot is illegal according to fed law.

    Don’t let your guard down and become comfortable with your state laws people…you may find your door kicked in.

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  • Sounds like opportunity knocking for the NIU SSDP folks. Go get ‘em! Give them hell and make them not want to pull such stunts in the future.

    I fucked with my college as well. We had a student group (community college, not such stiff separation in student orgs – you have students in a group? You’re a student org!) and we were the editorial staff on the student weekly paper. Smoked a lot of herb, had a great time… sued the college over free speech issue. Hell yeah, go kick their bureaucratic butts SSDP!

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  • DdC

    What Communities Enacting Pot Bans Should Consider
    Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is making sure that they get the message that any attempts to infringe on the legitimate rights of patients and caregivers are going to be fought every step of the way.

    I’m pretty sure the ACLU only takes on the government in cases, not sure about Universities. Maybe the Fed funding the University gets can be stopped. Good old fashioned protests might be less boring than the status quo news. Censorship is censorship. Wikileaks or Ganjawar reformers or the daily grind of the DEAth Merchant and Drug Worrier lies censoring the truth. Guess thats why they call it Fascism.

    Feds Warn Oakland on Pot Farms

    Draft of Colorado Pot Rules is a 90-Page Tome

    Josh Silver, president and co-founder of Free Press.

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  • Duncan20903

    Brandon, they’ll be able to get the decision reversed without much effort if they are so inclined.

    National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977) is the pertinent case, and hey that was even in Illinois.

    http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=432&invol=43

    The really ironic thing is that the Nazi’s were beaten like red headed step children in the court of public opinion. The idiocy of those opposing the permitting of their march gave them nationwide publicity. In the end the Nazi’s never did march because Chicago came to it’s senses and the Nazis preferred to march there. Had Skokie followed the law and quietly issued the permit the thing would likely have been a total non-event rather than a nationwide object of controversy.

    Denials of people’s rights on this subject aren’t uncommon. When I was with DC Metro NORML we had to take similar jerkoffs to task perhaps 9 or 10 times. Fortunately we had a killer lawyer who was totally down for it and worked pro bono. It’s amazing because these are the same clowns that seem to think that “Its the law” is relevant when they say it to others, but doesn’t apply to them.

    We actually had to take WMATA on a second time after they had already been taken out to the woodshed. I told our lawyer to give them an extra special whipping for not learning their lesson the first time. Indeed, he complied with my wishes.

    Within the last year a bunch of right wing dimwits have been using the WMATA public service announcements to promote a vote making gay marriage illegal and I’m very disappointed that those in favor of gay marriage thought it appropriate to stifle their right to free speech. Freedom is a two way street.

    (WMATA = Washington Metro Area Transportation Administration http://www.wmata.com/ )

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  • vicky vampire

    College that bastion of free speech all points of view allowed not: I do not know every intrascasy ,rule and or criteria involving school clubs and organizations these days when it seems a group of folks do not agree with your group they clump you into the political column automatically its politcal, yeah maybe I sound silly but you spit on wall oh that’s political.Yeah I know in effect there in disagremeent,mm wheres the diversity I keep hearing about on college campuses,

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