Wit from the Bench
I was researching Supreme Court cases regarding the rights of students for an upcoming series on the Constitution when I came across this excerpt from an opinion written by Justice Stevens in the 1981 case of Widmar v. Vincent. In that case, the court ruled that the University of Missouri was wrong to ban the use of campus facilities by religious groups, saying that while the university had the right to set rules, they couldn't single out religion as a banned content area. In his concurring opinion, Stevens sought to emphasize that requiring fairness was not a requirement that schools give up any attempt at critical judgment:
Because every university's resources are limited, an educational institution must routinely make decisions concerning the use of the time and space that is available for extracurricular activities. In my judgment, it is both necessary and appropriate for those decisions to evaluate the content of a proposed student activity.
I should think it obvious, for example, that, if two groups of 25 students requested the use of a room at a particular time -- one to view Mickey Mouse cartoons and the other to rehearse an amateur performance of Hamlet -- the First Amendment would not require that the room be reserved for the group that submitted its application first.
Nor do I see why a university should have to establish a "compelling state interest" to defend its decision to permit one group to use the facility and not the other. In my opinion, a university should be allowed to decide for itself whether a program that illuminates the genius of Walt Disney should be given precedence over one that may duplicate material adequately covered in the classroom.