Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia

515 U.S. 819 (1995)

In September 1990, students at the University of Virginia created a newspaper called Wide Awake, which promoted Christian perspectives. The newspaper was formed as a Contracted Independent Organization, which can receive funding from the university’s Student Activities Fund and is independent of the university. The university denied Wide Awake’s request for printing funds because their newspaper expressed religious views, which is against university guidelines.

The students sued the school, alleging that the university violated their First Amendment right to freedom of speech by refusing to give the same funds that other organizations could receive. In May 1992, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia sided with the university, holding that the discrimination was justified because the public school has to comply with the Establishment Clause, which forbids public institutions from establishing an official religion. In March 1994, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision.

The case then went to the Supreme Court in June 1995, where the previous decisions were reversed. The Court held that the students publishers’ First Amendment rights were violated because a financial burden was imposed on their speech and thus created viewpoint discrimination. The court said that if the university chose to promote speech at all, it must promote all forms equally.