The Law School Authority

Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia Case Brief

Summary of Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819 (1995)

Facts: U of Virginia permits the payment of 3P printing costs for student publications.  Student groups must rec’v CIO status before they can submit 3P billing.  Some CIO’s apply for Student Activity Fund (SAF) derived from student semester fees.  Univ policy states that some costs are inelible for reimbursement through SAF if support: religious activities. Religious activities are defined as “primarily promotes . . .belief in or about a deity or an ultimate reality.”  Univ w/h payment for Pet’s costs b/c their publication supported religious activity.  WAP rec’d status as a CIO even though it was a ‘religious org,’ that published a Christian paper Wide Awake.

Issue(s): Whether Est Cl compels a state Univ to exclude an otherwise eligible student publication from expense reimbursements out of student fund solely b/c of its religious viewpoint where that viewpoint exclusion would violate Const if non-religious?

Holding: No.

Procedure: WAP, Wide Awake, and 3 editors filed D.Ct for damages, injunction, declaratory.   On cross Summary Mot D. Ct ruled for Univ.  Ct of App Affirmed C: discrim was justified to maintain separation btwn church and state.  U.S.S.Ct Reversed

Rule(s): 1st and 14th

Rationale: Speech State cannot exercise viewpoint discrimination b/c that is an impermissible regulation of the contents.  But, in ltd forum content discrim is allowed if the state preserves the purpose of the forum, but does not exclude on the basis of viewpoint otherwise permitted by those purposes. Univ does not exclude religion as a subject matter, but provides disfavorable treatment for publications containing a religious viewpoint–refusal to make payments to 3P.

Viewpoint discrim cannot be justified among private speakers on the basis if economic scarcity.

Est Cl.  State abandoned its argument, but Ct opined to correct Ct of App.

A significant factor in upholding Govt programs under attack by Est Cl is their neutrality toward religion.  Est Cl does not justify or require suppression of speech right to religious speakers who participate in gen. Govt programs that are neutral in design.  Univ program was not designed to advance religion.  The object of the SAF was to create an open forum for student speech. WAP did not request funding b/c of its religious viewpoint, but b/c it was a student publication.  Student fees are not of the same class as a gen. tax levied to directly support religion b/c SAF cannot be used for unlimited purposes.  The overall economic scheme is neutral and the Univ is not involved in private speech.  No funds flow directly to WAP–go to 3P.

The Ct of App erred by focusing on the money expended and not on nature of the benefit rec’d.  Printing is a routine, secular, and recurring attribute of student life.  Any benefit to religion is incidental to Govt religion neutral provisions. Paying 3P increases degree of separation.

DISSENT: Use of Public funds for the direct subsidization of preaching religious beliefs is expressly forbidden by the Const. Univ exercises control over State to compel a student to pay the SAF fee and to use any part in the support of religion is invalid.

Df’s A: (Univ) this case involves the provision of funds an not access to facilities, thus applying Lamb would constitutionalize every content based state decisions regarding allocation of public funds. Funding of speech is different from providing access to facilities b/c $ is scarce and facilities are not.  Including WAP 3P contractors in SAF funding would violate the Est Cl.


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