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 receives its money from mandatory student fees and is designed to support a broad range of extracurricular student activities related to the University's educational purpose. The University withheld authorization for payments to Wide Awake Productions (WAP), an organization that acquired CIO status, due to a publication issued by its student newspaper which was considered a “religious activity”. The guidelines of the CIO disqualifies from fund support, "religious activity" or any activity that primarily promoted or manifested a particular belief in or about a deity or an ultimate reality. The denial was ultimately sustained by the university's student activities committee. Petitioners filed suit alleging that the denial violated, among other provisions, the free speech and press and free exercise of religion guarantees of the Federal Constitution's First Amendment. The District Court granted summary judgment for the University, 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 of religion clause. The court of appeals affirmed.
Was the refusal to authorize payment violate the petitioners’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech?
The Supreme Court held that the respondents discriminated on the basis of religious editorial viewpoints, not religion itself. The Court held that the petitioners sought funding as a student journal, an enterprise supported by the student activity fund (SAF). Additionally, the Court held that petitioners' disbursement request was for payment to a private contractor for the printing costs of materials that are protected under the First Amendment. Thus, the Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of respondents because respondents Establishment Clause concern did not warrant denying payment to the third-party contractor.