Students for Life: Court upholds Senate decision

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ELIZABETH KELSEY, News Editor

Following an appeal after NISG senators denied a student organization the right to register, the NISG Supreme Court has upheld the Senate’s initial decision.

During the Oct. 7 meeting of NISG, senators denied the request of UNI Students for Life, an affiliate of the national pro-life group Students for Life, to be allowed to form a student organization at UNI. After this decision, UNI Students for Life filed a complaint to the NISG Supreme Court on Oct. 12, and a hearing was held Wednesday, Oct. 14.

During the hearing, the NISG Legislative Branch pled guilty to violating university policy by having denied UNI Students for Life the right to form a student organization.

Sophia Schuster, a sophomore history education major and representative of UNI Students for Life, described the hearing as “really short.”

“It was nice and quick and easy and painless,” she said. “I wasn’t surprised that they pled guilty.”

However, following the trial, the Court ruled that the Senate correctly chose to deny UNI Students for Life status as a registered student organization.

Justice Autumn Lauen delivered the opinion of the court, joined by Justices Yadira Guzman, Kimberly Cavalier, Lennon Janes and Anna Peterzalek. They held that University Policy 3.10 calls upon NISG to register “any student organization formed in good faith for a lawful purpose,” but that the UNI Students For Life constitution was “vague” and “allowing for open interpretation” as to the group’s intentions.

“The good faith that is needed by the deciding party, which in this case is the NISG Senate, to establish UNI Students For Life as a student organization is therefore lacking in evidence of being an equitable, just, and welcoming student organization for our students and community found on campus of the University of Northern Iowa,” they wrote in the official court opinion posted to the NISG Facebook page.

The majority further held that UNI Students for Life “has the potential to create a hostile environment on the University Campus,” putting them in violation of University Policy 13.02 §14(C)i: Discriminatory Harassment.

They argued that the fact that the organization intends to use a Regional Coordinator to advertise their chapter directly links the UNI Students For Life chapter to the national Students For Life organization, and that the national chapter’s views violate this University Policy by “openly disregard(ing) the rights of women and other subsequent groups.”

“The national chapter for Students For Life does not uphold the morals/standards nor policies when it comes to equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice that are found here at the University of Northern Iowa,” they wrote.

However, Justices Emily Loomis and Shawn Burrage joined Chief Justice Bekah Bass in a dissenting opinion. They argued that not only had the Legislative Branch already pled guilty, the court majority had “predicted actions” on the part of UNI Students for Life which “go far beyond the scope of this case.”

“By silencing a group of students who have shown no interest or indication of harming others, the NISG Senate and the Supreme Court majority are robbing these students of their fundamental right to speak freely and assemble as a group,” they wrote.

Loomis, Burrage and Bass also noted that the UNI Students for Life constitution had been sent to the Senate with unanimous approval from the Organization and Finance Committee, several members of which then voted to deny the bill in the general Senate meeting.

“Four of the eleven NISG senators who eventually voted to deny UNI Students for Life’s registration voted to approve the organization within the Organization and Finance Committee,” they wrote. “What changed in the day between the Organization and Finance Committee meeting on October 6, 2020 and the NISG Senate meeting on October 7, 2020?”

They further argued that University Policy 13.02 §14(C)i is not in fact within the jurisdiction of the NISG Supreme Court and is not applicable to the situation.

“The majority is using this policy to justify preventing the registration of a student organization when the policy is meant to address discriminatory harassment,” reads the dissenting opinion. “UNI Students for Life has done nothing to justify the allegation of harassment.”

Schuster expressed her gratitude to the justices who offered the dissenting opinion.

“I just have to thank them for standing up for me and my group,” she said. “If they hadn’t, no one would have.”

She said that she was not satisfied with the reasoning behind the majority decision.

“It did not seem grounded in any sort of actual rules, and I think once again they’re just trying to silence someone they disagree with, and as someone in power, that’s not their job,” she said. “Once again, I think student government has failed.”

According to Bass, UNI Students for Life has the opportunity to appeal the decision to the President of the University or his designee.

During a phone interview Wednesday night, Schuster said she was already working on the appeal.

“I thought everything was over and done with, I thought everything was resolved, and I guess it wasn’t,” she said.