Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia



In September 1990, students at the University of Virginia created a newspaper the Wide Awake, which promoted Christian perspectives and asked the university to provide funds from the Student Activities fund for printing costs. At the university, students can form Contracted Independent Organizations, which can receive funding from the Student Activities Fund and are independent of the university. The university denied their request for 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 can 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 needs 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 chooses to promote speech at all, it must promote all forms equally.