Of All Places, Catholic Universities Should Protect Pro-Lifers, Not Punish Them  

Caroline Wharton - 20 Dec 2022
Guest post by SFLA Christian Leadership Fellow Aidan Indahl

GUEST POST: Last year, my Students for Life of America group at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota called “Culture for Life” prepared an event to put up 2,800 flags to represent the number of abortions performed every day. We put the flags up late in the afternoon, but we were required to take them down by the administration that evening because we had apparently failed to go through all the proper procedures. We understood but remained determined to bring the flags back this year. 

This year, I met with various vice presidents of the university to make sure that all procedures were being followed, and we made a plan to have the flags up one entire day. We also had a table with additional information available and a minimum of two students throughout the entire day manning it. The morning of that day was mostly uneventful, but when we made a post about it on our group’s Instagram, students from the school started posting negative comments.  

As the online conversation escalated, the post started spreading outside of the Saint Mary’s Community, reaching students from schools across the country as well as attention from alumni. With an enrollment at our school of only around 800, the post has reached more than 3,500 accounts, as well as received 400 plus comments and 300 plus shares.    

Late that night (around 10:00 p.m.), the Vice President of Student Affairs reached out to me from her personal phone, requesting that we turn off comments or take down the post. At that point, I refused to take down the comments, believing it would reflect poorly on everyone involved. My group stood by our convictions of sorrow for the victims of abortion. 

The next day, our faculty adviser agreed that we should not take the post down or turn off comments; instead, he would meet with the Vice President of Student Affairs about the situation. However, she refused to meet with our adviser, requiring that I talk to her alone instead. When I did, she said that unless we wanted to face repercussions, we were required to either take the post down or turn off the comments and delete anything negative. 

When I continued to refuse (because deleting the post would look like we gave up and turning off the comments would look like we were censoring people), the Vice President of Student Affairs closed our meeting with an almost threatening line. She said, “I’ll be seeing you in here again for other reasons.” What could that mean?  

Afterwards, she sent me an email, saying I was required to remove my tag of the university on my private social media account post under another threat of discipline. Her email read: “Regarding the post and comments, the university is directing you not to tag the official SMUMN social media channels in your posts moving forward. In addition, any existing tags are to be removed. Failure to do so is considered a violation of our non-compliance policy and is subject to disciplinary proceedings.”  

She clarified she did mean my own personal account.  

At this point, my group learned of a pro-abortion protest that was being planned for Friday to protest the flags that were displayed on that Monday — but this shocked us. Since Saint Mary’s is a private, Catholic university, all demonstrations or protests have to be approved by the Vice President of Student Affairs. She claimed she had no choice but to approve it because of our policies, but our student handbook actually states:  

“While the university welcomes various perspectives and diverse views, it understands that such views may be contrary to the ethical standards of the university community as determined by the Board of Trustees and the President of the university.”  

At a Catholic university, abortion is absolutely contrary to our ethical standards. 

My group officers and I sent an email to the president of our university (who is also a Catholic priest) to discuss the situation as a whole. He responded that there would be later efforts to engage in dialogue with the campus community as a large group — which would be headed up by the Vice President of Student Affairs. Yes, the same one that acted unprofessionally by reaching out to me with a personal phone and had threatened punishment for use of my personal social media (which was espousing a view that our Catholic university upholds).  

In response, I sent an additional email explaining my concerns — and it’s been radio silence ever since with more than a month passing.  

The response from other students was expected, but we had hoped for more support from the university.  On their website, St. Mary’s University advertises themselves as “rooted in upholding the dignity of each person and developing ethical leaders who advance the common good.”  Apparently, though, that doesn’t cover student leaders who want the ability to uphold the dignity of the preborn; we get threats of discipline, instead.  

READ NEXT: 5 Ways To Support the Pro-Life Movement That Might Surprise You

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