Minnesota Lawyer

Suit Challenges Mandatory Fees Supporting Students United Agenda: St. Cloud Grad Says Required Students United Funding Violated Her Rights

May 17, 2024

(Minnesota Lawyer)—The Liberty Justice Center and the Upper Midwest Law Center have filed a lawsuit on behalf of a St. Cloud State University student alleging her First Amendment rights were violated because she was required to pay fees that fund the political speech of an organization called Students United.

The lawsuit, filed May 9, names Students United, St. Cloud State University, and the university’s responsible administrators.

“A state school can’t make you pay a political group just to be enrolled,” said Jacob Huebert, president of the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center. “The Students United scheme violates students’ First Amendment rights, and we look forward to the courts saying so in our case.”

The student plaintiff, Tayah Lackie, is a graduate of St. Cloud State University.

Lackie claims she was unaware that some of the student fees she paid went to Students United. Students United engages in political advocacy through initiatives such as the “Fck Student Debt” project, which calls for the abolition of all student debt. On its website and X account, the project asserts that it hopes for “big government policy changes.” These changes presumably include student debt cancellation, per an April 3 post “No Ifs, Ands, or Student Debts, Cancel It All!” Additionally, Students United advocates for changes to the tax code and election laws.

Students United did not respond to request for comment about the organization.

“Indeed, political advocacy pervades Students United’s work and is at the core of its purpose,” the complaint reads.

The state university system’s Board of Trustees has policies that require that all students attending any of the seven universities in the Minnesota State system to be members of and pay fees to Students United. Per the complaint, there is no opportunity for students to waive a right not to associate with Students United.

St. Cloud State has not responded to request for comment.

According to a projection for Fiscal Year 2024, Student United receives 76% of its funding from students’ mandatory fees. The general fee rate that students attending St. Cloud State University must pay to Students United is 80 cents per credit. This came to $9.60 in the fall 2023 semester and $12.00 in the Spring 2024 semester.

While it is a small fee, Lackie objects to being forced to pay for political speech, regardless of whether she agrees with it, as a condition of being a student.

“I don’t agree with a lot of what Students United says, and I shouldn’t have to pay for it. As someone who paid my own way without taking on debt, I particularly resent having to pay for lobbying to eliminate the debt of others who did take on loans,” said Lackie in a press release.

Lackie also states that, other than seeing the charge on her school account statements shortly before graduation, that she was never notified by St. Cloud State or Students United that she was required to pay the fee. Neither does Lackie state that she ever received any information from Students United or its activities.

The Liberty Justice Center and the Golden Valley-based Upper Midwest Law Center argue that requiring Lackie to fund Students United “violated her First Amendment right not to associate with or subsidize any private organization’s political speech” and “violated her First Amendment right of freedom of association.”

The organizations seek a declaration that the mandatory fee and association with and subsidization of Students United’s political activity and speech as a condition of Lackie’s enrollment violated her First Amendment rights. It also seeks the awarding of damages in the amount of all fees that plaintiff was required to pay Students United.

“Coerced speech and compelled association are violations of your constitutional rights, plain and simple. The system supporting Students United is unacceptable under the First Amendment, and we’re thrilled to challenge it,” James Dickey, Senior Counsel at the Upper Midwest Law Center, asserted.