College Republicans at Washington & Lee University were told last month to take down materials in support of Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin — a move the university said was done to keep it in compliance with its non-profit status under the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reported that college Republicans at the Virginia university set up a booth on Sep. 12 for the annual activities fair — and included materials backing the Republican Youngkin for governor.
FIRE reported that the group was told the display violated university policy and they were to remove materials backing political candidates. The official is said to have specifically cited its position as a 501(c)(3) non-profit under the IRS code — meaning it cannot endorse political figures.
Washington & Lee College Republicans chair Lilly Gillespie told Campus Reform that the university is barring students “from using school resources to express our opinions of candidates seeking office.”
Some students reportedly saw the move as another example of silencing of conservatives on college campuses.
“I’m not at all surprised the university has tried to suppress conservative political speech on campus,” undergraduate Elizabeth Hertzberg told Campus Reform. “It would not be the first time one side of the debate has been stifled.”
A spokesperson for Washington & Lee told Fox News that its guidance is “longstanding and is implemented in a fair and non-partisan way” in order to protect the university’s non-profit status.
“W&L is a long-time proponent of freedom of expression, and adopted the Chicago Principles affirming freedom of expression in December 2015,” Drewry Sackett said. “The university’s interpretation of the IRS Code in this case applies to the distribution of campaign materials on campus, but is not intended to infringe upon individual student or employee expression.”
FIRE wrote a letter to the university expressing its disagreement with that assessment, saying student political expression is not required by its non-profit status.
“It is in W&L’s institutional interest to refrain from censoring student political expression, because its commitment to free expression avoids the appearance that it is the university that is endorsing political viewpoints,” the letter said.
The race between Youngkin and Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe is razor-thin, with polls showing the two men neck-and-neck. Former President Barack Obama appeared at Virginia Commonwealth University Saturday to throw his support behind McAuliffe.