HELENA — The Associated Students of the University of Montana recognizes 92 student groups. Any student could join any of them, but a bill in the Legislature would change that.  

House Bill 349 would allow campus groups to exclude people based on their beliefs.

It also prevents universities from expelling students based on their speech.

Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, is the bill’s sponsor. He said his bill protects university students’ rights of assembly.

“The Planned Parenthood student group has the right to make sure that the person who’s running the organization is pro-choice. Same thing over on the pro-life side,” Hopkins said. “This is all common sense.”

Thirteen other proponents from Christian, conservative, and Republican groups agreed with Hopkins. 

Isaac Edikauskas spoke on behalf of the Montana Chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative lobbying organization funded by the Koch Brothers. 

“If the pinnacle institutions of higher education in Montana are allowed to continue to reserve the right to favor certain student organizations and withhold opportunities from others on the basis of their political and ideological opinions,” Edikauskas said, “what type of culture is that going to create in Montana?”

Jack Rinck of the Associated Students of the University of Montana was the bill’s only listed opponent. He said the bill attempts to solve a nonexistent problem and hinders students’ rights.

“To me it is unfair to be giving the same amount of resources to two groups: one which is inclusive to the whole student body, the other which is not,” Rinck said. 

A related bill from Hopkins, House Bill 218, would ban universities from restricting speech to an area of campus.

James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

 

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