A Michigan State University (MSU) professor forced all of her students to pay $99 and join her political advocacy group, which funded her own activities as well as Planned Parenthood, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week.
Attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed the 88-page complaint on Monday after Christian students Nathan Barbieri and Nolan Radomski were required to pay the fee to join Amy Wisner’s group during the 2023 spring semester. Wisner made the fee to join her Rebellion Community part of the course, Business Communications, which is a mandated course for every student in MSU’s College of Business. The class has an enrollment of approximately 600 students each semester.
The class syllabus stated that “The Rebellion Community . . . is a global social learning community with a private space dedicated to this course,” and that after students joined they would “have access to shared spaces that are used by members of the broader community.”
When the students joined, a statement on the website claimed:
“Your membership fees are used to (1) pay for use of the technology and (2) pay guest speakers, educators, and facilitators. Your professor does not receive any financial compensation from your membership fees as that would be a conflict of interest.”
Those claims proved to be false, the complaint argues. The plaintiffs soon realized that the website was Wisner’s and that she was using the fees — a total of $60,000 each semester — to “to engage in political speech Plaintiffs disagreed with and donating the funds to other organizations that also engage in political advocacy Plaintiffs disagree with.”
The plaintiffs found a Facebook post linking to another page associated with the Rebellion Community that claimed: “100% of membership fees are donated to Planned Parenthood.”
After students complained, MSU placed the professor on leave and gave each student a $99 credit on their university account. The suit says that isn’t enough, arguing:
“A $99 credit to the students’ University account does nothing to erase the constitutional harm that already occurred, nor to stop Ms. Wisner from continuing to use the money she unlawfully extracted from Plaintiffs to support her own advocacy and the advocacy of organizations that Plaintiffs oppose.”
The complaint states that the response from Judith Whipple, interim dean of MSU’s Broad College of Business, who is also named as a defendant in the complaint, shows that the university does not believe Wisner violated any policies and has done nothing to alter its policies. The suit claims that Wisner was not required to return the thousands of dollars in fees she collected from students, stating:
“Defendant Whipple’s attempt to placate student outrage by offering a $99 credit does not stop Defendant Wisner from using the funds she extracted to advance political speech Plaintiffs disagree with, does not erase the violation of Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, and in fact, also serves to continue to violate them.”
ADF Legal Counsel Logan Spena stated,
“University professors can’t force students to finance and support political advocacy groups that express messages they disagree with. Nathan and Nolan simply want to get a business degree without being compelled to pay membership fees that will be donated to Planned Parenthood or support speech that directly contradicts their religious beliefs. Michigan State officials have violated the First Amendment and federal civil rights laws by authorizing professors to force students to support speech antithetical to their deepest values and faith.”
This is a public university mandating that students join a political organization and fund political activities and organizations. The funds were allegedly used to fund Planned Parenthood, requiring students to donate to the nation’s largest abortion provider while also deceiving them about what the money would be used for before they paid it.
Assuming these allegations are factual, Wisner must be required to return the fees and the university must take steps to ensure that no professor is allowed to do this again in the future. Lying to students and forcing them to unwittingly donate to groups that violate the students’ conscience forced them to commit a sin against their conscience. In this case, Christian students who believe in the value of human life and believe that each unborn child is made in the image of God were forced to donate money used to facilitate the murder of children — all under the guise of technology and speakers’ fees.
Proverbs 21:6 states,
“The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue
Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.”
If this is true, Wisner used her position of authority to manipulate and mandate students into donating money to her political and personal causes. That is wrong on a professional, ethical, and moral level.
At the very least, MSU should have fired Wisner for breaching the trust of her students and the integrity of her teaching. Since they didn’t, the court should rule for the plaintiffs and force university officials to implement clear policies that ensure no future students are unwittingly tricked into violating their own personal and religious beliefs.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.