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Nook overrules UNI student government denial of pro-life group's campus request



CEDAR FALLS — A pro-life group may register as a campus organization after President Mark Nook overturned its denial by the Northern Iowa Student Government in a decision released Monday.

University of Northern Iowa sophomore Sophia Schuster made an appeal to Nook on Oct. 20 concerning her request to register a campus chapter of the national Students for Life group. Appealing to UNI’s president was her final campus avenue to reverse the Oct. 7 decision by the student legislature, which was upheld 5-3 a week later by the student judiciary.

In an eight-page ruling, Nook said that it would violate First Amendment rights of Students for Life if he didn’t overturn those decisions.

UNI President Mark Nook's Oct. 26, 2020, ruling on Students for Life v. NISG.

“Universities exist to give students and all members of the university community an opportunity to wrestle with a vast diversity of ideas and opinions, to challenge their perception of their own identity and the beliefs and opinions of others, and to grow in their understanding of natural and social systems,” he wrote.

“Neither the University nor NISG endorse any student organization’s viewpoints by approving them as student organizations,” said Nook. “By denying them recognition when they intend, in good faith, to engage in lawful activities, we deny them their right to free speech and assembly guaranteed to them by the First Amendment.”

Schuster could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

Students for Life had met all the criteria to become a registered student organization when its request was initially denied. During an appeal to the judiciary, student government representatives had even argued that the initial decision was erroneous.

Black Lives Matter returned to the streets of downtown Waterloo Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, to renew the focus on racial justice and encourage voting.

Organizations that register with Northern Iowa Student Government are allowed access to funding through its budget as well as use of UNI facilities and the right to promote themselves on campus.

Nook’s analysis of the student judiciary’s majority opinion took issue with the contention that the anti-abortion group failed the “good faith” requirement in UNI’s policies because “evidence of being an equitable, just, and welcoming student organization” was not exhibited in its application to register. “The majority creates a standard for UNI Students for Life that is not in policy or procedures and has not been applied to other student organizations,” he wrote.

Nook also questioned the idea in the majority opinion that the group “has the potential to create a hostile environment on the University Campus.” He noted the policy cited applies to actual — not potential — conduct.

His ruling embraced the arguments of the student judiciary’s minority opinion, which said group members “have shown no interest or indication of harming others.”

In an earlier story, Schuster told The Courier that some people have “misconceptions” about the pro-life movement. The Students for Life chapter will focus on communicating to pregnant women that they can choose to have their baby.

“Our whole purpose is to tell women that they’re strong and we love them,” she said.

Cedar Valley mussels saved over the years


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Education Reporter

I cover local schools and higher education for The Courier, where I’ve been a reporter for the past two decades. I’m a Minnesota native and have previously worked for newspapers there and in Illinois.

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