In Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia, the United States Supreme Court evaluated the constitutionality of a state university's refusal to fund a student group's activity based solely on the group's Christian perspective. Respondent, the University of Virginia, regularly authorizes the payment of the printing bills for various student publications. Upon authorization, the University pays outside printing contractors directly with money from the Student Activities Fund ("SAF), which is supported by mandatory student fees. The purpose of the SAF is to make available to students a wide range of opportunities by supporting extracurricular activities that are related to the educational purpose of the University. A student organization must be a Contracted Independent Organization ("CIO") to receive funding. The contract between the University and the CIOs states that the University does not approve of the goals and activities of CIOs and that the benefits afforded to CIOs should not be "misinterpreted as meaning that those organizations are part of or controlled by the University." The University further disclaims responsibility for CIOs by requiring that the organizations include a clause in all written materials stating that they are independent of the University. CIOs may apply for publication funding if they qualify as one of eleven categories of student groups. SAF guidelines prohibit the funding of "religious activities," defined as any activity that "primarily promotes or manifests a particular belie[f] in or about a deity or an ultimate reality." Petitioner Rosenberger's organization, Wide Awake Productions ("WAP"), qualified as a CIO and was eligible to apply for SAF funding under the category of "student news, information, opinion, entertainment, or academic communications media groups." WAP publishes a paper called "Wide Awake: A Christian Perspective at the University of Virginia." The paper's purpose is to "publish a magazine of philosophical and religious expression, to facilitate discussion which fosters an atmosphere of sensitivity to and tolerance of Christian viewpoints, and to provide a unifying focus for Christians of multicultural background." WAP applied to the SAF for payment of its printing bills, but the SAF refused to fund WAP's publication based upon its finding that the paper was a "religious activity." After making the proper appeals through the University, WAP filed suit against the University alleging that the SAF guideline restricting funding for "religious activities" violated its rights to free speech, press, and exercise of religion. The District Court for the Western District of Virginia found for the University and held that the University's guideline did not discriminate against either the content or viewpoint of student speech and that the University's Establishment Clause concern over "religious activities" justified the denial of funding to WAP. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the SAF guideline did, in fact, discriminate against speech content, but affirmed the district court because of a "compelling interest in maintaining strict separation of church and state." The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed. The Court held (1) the SAF Guideline discriminated against private speech based on its viewpoint, and (2) such discrimination was not justified by an Establishment Clause concern because the University's program, absent the discriminatory aspect, was neutral toward religion.
Elizabeth M. Wheeler, Note, Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia: Free Speech Clause and Establishment Clause Doctrines Work Together to Protect Individual Thought and Expression, 47 Mercer L. Rev. 663 (1996).