Submission by Sam Foer
Last week the Cigar published an article with some false and misleading information about Student Senate’s practices and policies. I write to clarify Senate’s problematic practices and their actual regulations, which they seem to misunderstand or ignore; both speak to the collective [in]competence of our student government.
To start, Student Senate claims that their 501(c)(3) status prevents them from funding any political and religious organization because doing so may jeopardize their tax-exempt status. This is simply untrue. While 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from indirectly or directly supporting political candidates or campaigns in any way, organizations recognized by Senate are not 501(c)(3) themselves, meaning that they aren’t bound to 501(c)(3) regulations. In fact, the 1995 Supreme Court case, Rosenberger v. University of Virginia required public universities to fund all student organizations regardless of political/religious status. Student Senate, if truly URI’s representative student government, may be violating the Constitution. Additionally, Student Senate’s Contingency Program tracks the activities of student organizations. Even if a student organization supports a candidate, the Contingency Program ensures that the organization isn’t reimbursed for that activity. However, political and religious organizations can’t even use this unnecessary mechanism in the first place.
My organization, BridgeUSA URI focuses on constructive political discourse. The most we engage in politics is by discussing it, yet according to Senate, BridgeUSA is political. The Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Hillel are both religious in nature. Hillel was funded up until next year, and it’s misleading for Senate to claim that they aren’t funded. Concerning the MSA which is funded, it’s hard to believe that an organization centered around a religious identity isn’t considered religious by Senate, while BridgeUSA which has no one political focus is “political.” Student Senate has no specified line between “religious” and “cultural” as exemplified with the MSA, yet “cultural” organizations receive funding while “religious” organizations don’t.
It’s similar for political organizations. Women’s Republic, “a group that focuses on issues pertaining to women” was recognized when BridgeUSA was. But Women’s Republic was afforded funding status even though they focus on women’s [political] issues. Women’s issues have forever been political; just do some history. The problem is that Senate funds organizations that are centered around political issues, but denies BridgeUSA funding. If you scrutinize everything in terms of potential, nearly everything is political. Political institutions like Senate cannot operate fairly when decisions verge on arbitrariness and ignore key regulations and allowances.
And unlike what Senate claims, I never said that BridgeUSA would support political candidates. Rather, as an exercise we might discuss methods for supporting candidates in general. Apparently discussing candidates and political parties constitutes supporting them but expressing religious culture isn’t religious. It’s a mystery why Senate is so reluctant to comply with the Constitution and the allowances of 501(c)(3) organizations, especially since Senate is overly concerned with not jeopardizing their status and has measures in place to ensure that it isn’t jeopardized.