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Rutgers trampled the constitution by letting students vote to defund the newspaper

Rutgers University should restore funding to its student newspaper after it violated the constitution by allowing students who don’t like what the paper publishes to vote to defund it, a First Amendment group claims.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) on Monday called for Rutgers to restore more than $500,000 to The Daily Targum, which lost its student fee funding through a referendum last month.

That referendum violated the constitution because it let students decide how public money is spent based entirely on whether they agree with what a student group does, said Adam Goldstein, a program officer at FIRE, a non-profit free speech advocacy group.

Students, including a conservative group that dismissed The Daily Targum as “fake news,” aren’t legally allowed to defund a public university newspaper just because they don’t agree with the content, he said.

“Rutgers cannot permit any student group to lose funding because someone didn’t like what they published, and that’s all a referendum is: a heckler’s veto with extra steps,” Goldstein said.

FIRE cited a 2000 Supreme Court decision involving the University of Wisconsin that found public universities can require a student to pay fees to support student groups whose beliefs are offensive to the student. That ruling also established that the method for deciding if a group gets student funding at a public college must be “viewpoint neutral.”

“The university must immediately reverse course and implement a funding process that doesn’t subject student newspapers, or any other student organization, to layer upon layer of impermissible viewpoint discrimination,” Goldstein said.

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