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Law School Case Brief

Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the Univ. of Va. - 515 U.S. 819, 115 S. Ct. 2510 (1995)


A State may not exercise viewpoint discrimination, even when the limited public forum is one of its own creation. The necessities of confining a forum to the limited and legitimate purposes for which it was created may justify a State in reserving it for certain groups or for the discussion of certain topics. Once it has opened a limited forum, however, a State must respect the lawful boundaries it has itself set. A State may not exclude speech where its distinction is not reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum, nor may it discriminate against speech on the basis of its viewpoint.


Respondent University of Virginia, a state instrumentality, authorized payments from its Student Activities Fund (SAF) to outside contractors for the printing costs of a variety of publications issued by student groups called "Contracted Independent Organizations" (CIO's). The SAF received its money from mandatory student fees and was designed to support a broad range of extracurricular student activities related to the University's educational purpose. CIO's were required to include in their dealings with third parties and in all written materials a disclaimer stating that they were independent of the University and that the University was not responsible for them. The University withheld authorization for payments to a printer on behalf of CIO operated by petitioner Ronald W. Rosenberger and others named Wide Awake Productions (WAP), solely because its student newspaper, Wide Awake: A Christian Perspective at the University of Virginia, primarily promoted or manifested a particular belief in or about a deity or an ultimate reality, as prohibited by the University's SAF Guidelines. Petitioners filed a action in federal district court under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, alleging that the refusal to authorize payment violated their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. After the district court granted summary judgment for the University, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the University's invocation of viewpoint discrimination to deny third-party payment violated the Speech Clause, but concluding that the discrimination was justified by the necessity of complying with the Establishment Clause.


Did the University's refusal to authorize payment to a third-party contractor for the printing costs of Rosenberger's student publication violate the latter's First Amendment right to freedom of speech?




The Supreme Court of the United States held that Rosenberger and others sought funding as a student journal, an enterprise supported by the SAF. Additionally, the Court held that their disbursement request was for payment to a private contractor for the printing costs of materials that were protected under the First Amendment. Thus, the Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the University because its Establishment Clause concern did not warrant denying payment to the third-party contractor.

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