Sometimes conservatives should cheer up. The right threat from the right can bring liberals around.
For almost 14 months the University of Pennsylvania cited COVID-19 as the reason for denying recognition for a student group focused on hunting, shooting, and archery.
Penn held the group’s application in limbo, even though it met all the criteria for approval. The college rejected even virtual activities for the sportsmen, although it permitted other outdoor-oriented groups to either form or conduct their regular activities, both in person and virtually.
But last week the University of Pennsylvania relented after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, a nonprofit that seeks to protect students’ First Amendment rights, offered a thinly veiled threat of a lawsuit over viewpoint discrimination.
The controversy dates back to March 2020.
The Hunting, Archery, and Shooting Club sought formal recognition as a club to “promote sustainable conservation, marksmanship, and ethical hunting practices through education and training,” according to FIRE.
The University of Pennsylvania refused, citing the “severe disruption in university operations” caused by the pandemic
The college said that consideration of the application would not change until “things return to normal.” The application was tabled so as to protect “the health and safety of our entire community,” according to an administration letter obtained by FIRE.
According to FIRE, the University of Pennsylvania refused to even allow virtual gatherings for the Hunting, Shooting, and Archery Club – even though that was permitted for the 750 other student organizations on campus.
Moreover, the university green-lighted a surfing club, even as it refused to recognize the outdoor group.
Tabling the application, the university effectively hobbled the Hunting, Archery, and Shooting Club. That’s because it could not recruit members or raise money while its application remained in limbo.
In a statement, FIRE argued, “By continuing to deny registration, Penn prevents the group from meaningfully participating within the Penn academic community.”
Moreover, in a letter to the University of Pennsylvania in early February, FIRE maintained that Penn was “legally and morally bound” to uphold the commitment to academic and intellectual freedom, and freedom of expression, as outlined in its own university code.
When the university continued to stall, FIRE issued another letter on March 17, suggesting the legal heat would intensify.
FIRE senior program officer Zach Greenberg said in a statement, “We will not let this evasive response stand when students’ rights are at stake. By engaging in viewpoint discrimination and delaying the club’s approval process, the University of Pennsylvania is shooting itself in the foot.”
On April 29, FIRE finally announced in a press release that Penn had green-lighted the club’s application.
It’s unclear what exactly forced Penn’s hand. FIRE’s release noted that the school surrendered “under pressure” from FIRE and one of its top lawyers.
In the release Greenberg noted, “We are pleased that Penn finally hit the mark. However, the approval is long overdue. It should not take a year for a university to make good on its promises to uphold students’ rights.”
“The university tried to camouflage its bias by using COVID as an excuse, but FIRE knows how to spot blatant viewpoint discrimination,” Greenberg added. “We are glad to see the University of Pennsylvania ultimately come to the right conclusion, and we hope that in future, students at Penn will be promptly afforded the rights promised by their school.”
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