Lawsuit filed on behalf of pro-life high school students

When pro-life students at Parkland High School challenged their school after administrators denied them their right to start a Students for Life group, they didn’t think a lawsuit would be necessary.

Parkland HS did reply to the demand letter that our attorneys at the Thomas More Society sent in May. But they responded with conditions that were unacceptable (and still unconstitutional), denying Liz and Grace their First Amendment rights.

So the students and our attorneys at the Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit today, which demands that the school allow the pro-life students to have their Students for Life group and be treated the same as every other student in the school.

This is pro-life discrimination and it’s not only happening at Parkland HS. Fresno State, Colorado State University, Cal State San Marcos – these are only a few of the legal issues SFLA has been involved in this semester where administrators deny constitutionally-protected rights to pro-life students.

Liz (left) and Grace (right)

“Holding pro-life views and wanting to create a culture of life on campus is not grounds for the blatant discrimination shown by school administrators,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America.  “It is our hope that Parkland High School swiftly allows the Students for Life at the school the same rights granted to every other group on campus.”

In the fall of 2016, Elizabeth tried to go through the standard process of starting at Students for Life group at her school. The assistant principal said the group needed an advisor and one was found soon after but subsequently withdrew. In March of 2017, the Trojans for Life found a new advisor and submitted their application, which was verbally denied by the assistant principal, who deemed the group too “political” and “controversial.” On April 6th, Elizabeth sent an email to the assistant principal, where she tried to find out what could be done so that the Students for Life group could exist alongside all the other school clubs, like the Gay Straight Alliance, the Chess Club, and the Fashion Club. No response was received from the school.

SFLA’s attorneys at the Thomas More Society sent a demand letter to the school and the school district, challenging the administrators’ denial of the club as a violation of the federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The Society asked for the school to approve the club, giving it full access to the school’s established expressive forum, equal to all other clubs.

In response, the district said it would approve the club—but only if Elizabeth and Grace changed the club’s mission, abandoned certain activities, and gave up their rights to fundraise.  Far from treating Trojans for Life equally, these are demands that no other clubs are required to meet.

“The school is treating us like second-class citizens because we want to create a culture of life and be a positive influence to our peers,” said Grace Schairer, who will be a senior this coming fall at Parkland High School.  “We want to educate our fellow students about abortion and at the same time be a visible resource for our peers facing unplanned pregnancies.  The school has made it clear that it will not allow us to have this type of club, so we decided to file the lawsuit.  We are hoping for a quick resolution so Trojans for Life can hit the ground running at the start of the fall semester, along with all the other clubs at Parkland High School.”

The Thomas More Society’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with assistance from local co-counsel Christopher G. Sweet of the American Catholic Lawyers Association, Inc., asks for the court to order Parkland School District to approve Trojans for Life with the rights and privileges granted to all other clubs.

“Parkland’s initial denial and later attempt to impose extra requirements on Liz and Grace’s club are a far cry from the law’s requirement that schools treat student clubs equally in every respect,” said Jocelyn Floyd, special counsel for Thomas More Society. “We hope that the court will quickly recognize the illegal and unconstitutional way the school has treated Liz and Grace and require Parkland High School to uphold their rights under both the First Amendment and Equal Access Act.”

A link to the lawsuit is here.

Have you had a problem starting your Students for Life club at your school? We can help! Contact us at info@studentsforlife.org.

Victory at Kutztown University – Chalk Policies Changed

Kutztown University of Pennsylvania has changed its policy regarding chalked messages on sidewalks after attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter in March on behalf of Students for Life at Kutztown University. University officials had scrubbed from the campus’s sidewalks pro-life messages that student members of the group had chalked even though the school permitted other groups to chalk.

The students wrote the life-affirming messages onto various sidewalks and other uncovered walkways as part of National Pro-Life Chalk Day but later learned that university officials used a scrub brush to wash the messages away, saying they were “just following orders.” When students replaced the messages, officials scrubbed some of them away again. Many of the messages were of pregnancy helplines.

“Too frequently we see that public colleges and universities feel they can engage in censorship of a student group just because officials don’t agree with the viewpoint of those students,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins. “Playing favorites while stifling free speech is, sadly, an all-too-common response of abortion advocates who prefer to silence opposition rather than have a free exchange of ideas. We are very pleased that Kutztown University Students for Life will be able to share their message freely just as other students do.”

The university’s original “Posting and Chalking Guidelines” expressly regulated the “content” of student expression by prohibiting, among other things, messages that “advertise activities, events, or groups…incompatible with the University’s Statement on Non-Discrimination.” The revised policy no longer contains these unconstitutional limitations on the content or point of view expressed in chalked messages.

“No public university can silence student speech simply because officials don’t like what the students are saying,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “The original chalking policy only permitted messages the university agrees with, but the revised policy eliminates that unconstitutional restriction and allows all views to be expressed. We commend Kutztown University officials for revising their policy to respect freedom of speech for all students.”

“Under the initial guidelines, the university could have censored a huge number of messages that officials didn’t find palatable, and that’s what happened with Students for Life. The new policy ensures that won’t happen again to anyone,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “It’s vitally important that public university officials everywhere model the First Amendment for college students who will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, teachers, and voters rather than communicate to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter. We hope other universities will follow Kutztown University’s example in rectifying bad policies that are inconsistent with the ‘marketplace of ideas’ that a university is supposed to be.”

Pro-life speech at school? Nope, says admins.

In just the past few weeks, Students for Life of America has been involved in three separate free speech incidents – two lawsuits in California and a demand letter in Pennsylvania. Professors and administrators are giving students a horrible example of what it means to respectfully disagree with someone, have civil conversations, and adhere to the First Amendment rights. Is it any surprise then, really, that students across the country are protesting (sometimes violently) and attempting to shut down any speech they disagree with?

Forget it if the students are pro-life. Administrators tell them they can’t have their club because abortion is “too political”. A professor tells them that “campuses aren’t free speech areas” and scrubs away their pro-life messages on the sidewalk. A school pays for pro-abortion speakers with student fees but refuses to pay for an anti-abortion speaker.

This is what the current environment for pro-life students look like on college and high school campuses. But they aren’t backing down at all. They are courageously moving forward and asserting their First Amendment rights.

Fresno State, CA

The Students for Life group at California State University, Fresno (“Fresno State”) recorded an altercation on video that occurred on May 2nd with a university professor who berated the group for their pro-life expression, claimed that they could only express themselves in a “free speech area” (which the university eliminated two years ago), and then proceeded to scrub out their chalk messages on the sidewalk, which were pre-approved by the school.

Bernadette Tasy, the president of Fresno State Students for Life, initially caught students scrubbing away the chalkings – which were messages expressing support for pregnant and parenting students and presenting information about the development of an unborn child – that the group had written. They informed her that their professor, Dr. Gregory Thatcher, had encouraged the students to wipe away the chalkings.

Dr. Thatcher, a public health professor, then proceeded to give Bernadette a lecture on free speech that misstated both the law and university policy, claiming that the group could only speak in a speech zone the university eliminated two years ago. Eventually, he announced, “You had permission to put [the chalkings] down. . . . I have permission to get rid of it,” as he used his sneaker to scrub over what was written. Compounding his errors, he then he proclaimed:  “College campuses are not free speech areas.” Our attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against Dr. Thatcher on May 11th.

Parkland High School, PA

Parkland High School principal and superintendent received a demand letter on May 17th from senior Elizabeth Castro and Students for Life of America, sent by the Thomas More Society. The letter charges that the school’s denial of the Students for Life group at the school, Trojans for Life, is unconstitutional and must be reversed.

In the fall of 2016, Elizabeth tried to go through the standard process of starting at Students for Life group at her school. The assistant principal said the group needed an advisor and one was found soon after but subsequently withdrew. In March of 2017, the Trojans for Life found a new advisor and submitted their application, which was verbally denied by the assistant principal, who deemed the group too “political” and “controversial.” On April 6th, Elizabeth sent an email to the assistant principal, where she tried to find out what could be done so that the Students for Life group could exist alongside all the other school clubs, like the Gay Straight Alliance, the Chess Club, and the Fashion Club. No response was received from the school.

Once the demand letter was sent, we did hear back from the school – and they said the students need to change the mission statement (which said they wanted to create a “pro-life culture on campus”) and that they can’t raise money for pregnancy resource centers. A lawsuit was filed against the school on July 11, 2017. Read about it here.

Cal State, CA

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on May 18th against California State University–San Marcos officials on behalf of Students for Life and its campus president, Nathan Apodaca, who are prevented from bringing pro-life speakers to campus under the university’s discriminatory funding policies. The university funds pro-abortion and other favored views with almost $300,000 in mandatory fees charged of Mr. Apodaca and all students, but denied Students for Life $500 in funding to host a visiting speaker on “Abortion and Human Equality” to provide a contrasting view.

CSU–San Marcos has more than 100 recognized student groups. Although the university says that it prohibits any of those groups from spending activity fee grants on expenses to bring speakers to campus, the Gender Equity Center and the LGBQTA Pride Center enjoy preferential status, and as such, are exempt from that rule and the standard $500 cap. In the 2016-2017 academic year, those two “centers” received a combined $296,498 for speech and expressive activities —more than 21 percent of all mandatory student activity fees the programming board received for that year—compared to only $38,629 for the more than 100 other groups combined (less than 3 percent). This year the GEC hosted the ABC’s of LGBTQ: Queer Women and the so-called “Pleasure Party.” The LGBQTA Pride Center hosted “Kink 101”—which was an interactive workshop and discussion of bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism—and fetish-style practices. These and the centers’ other advocacy events were funded exclusively from mandatory student fees.

Earlier this year, Students for Life applied for a $500 “Leadership Funding” grant to host pro-life speaker and University of North Carolina–Wilmington Professor Mike Adams to provide an alternative view. Student groups like SFLA may receive only $500 per semester.  Read the rest of the story and lawsuit here. 

Fresno State Professor Scrubs Out Pro-Life Chalk on Video; Claims “Free Speech” Rights but Gets Lawsuit Instead

The Students for Life group at California State University, Fresno (“Fresno State”) recorded an altercation on video that occurred on May 2nd with a university professor who berated the group for their pro-life expression, claimed that they could only express themselves in a “free speech area” (which the university eliminated two years ago), and then proceeded to scrub out their chalk messages on the sidewalk, which were pre-approved by the school.

A link to the video is here.

“Fresno State Students for Life received full permission to chalk pro-life messages near the library. Rather than countering with his own message, Dr. Thatcher took the illegal approach of censoring speech and inciting students to help in this,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “No students should have to endure this kind of intimidation and harassment for simply expressing their views, but especially not those who want to help the women betrayed, and the preborn children killed, by the abortion industry.”

Bernadette Tasy, the president of Fresno State Students for Life, initially caught students scrubbing away the chalkings – which were messages expressing support for pregnant and parenting students and presenting information about the development of an unborn child – that the group had written. They informed her that their professor, Dr. Gregory Thatcher, had encouraged the students to wipe away the chalkings.

Dr. Thatcher, a public health professor, then proceeded to give Bernadette a lecture on free speech that misstated both the law and university policy, claiming that the group could only speak in a speech zone the university eliminated two years ago. Eventually, he announced, “You had permission to put [the chalkings] down. . . . I have permission to get rid of it,” as he used his sneaker to scrub over what was written. Compounding his errors, he then he proclaimed:  “College campuses are not free speech areas.”

Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Fresno State Students for Life against Dr. Greg Thatcher for his clear violation of the group’s free speech rights.

The lawsuit, Fresno State Students for Life v. Thatcher, explains that Professor Thatcher’s decision to erase Students for Life’s expression, to recruit students to help in his censorship, and to harass and intimidate the group violates their fundamental right to freedom of speech. Additionally, the complaint asks the court to block Thatcher “and any other persons acting on his behalf or at his direction from interfering, disrupting, or altering any future lawful expressive activities that [Fresno State Students for Life and its members] conduct.”

“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, educators, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that university professors model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students, and why it should disturb everyone that this Fresno State professor, like so many other university officials across the country, is communicating to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.

New SFL group already making an impact!

 By Norvillia Etienne, president of Queens College Students for Life, who only recently became a club because of a demand letter sent to the school after they denied the group their rightful place as a student club.

Queens College Students for Life made our campus wide debut this week with a Cemetery of the Innocents display. We placed about 300 miniature gravestones on our campus Quad to commemorate the 3,000 preborn children who lose their lives through abortion every day in the United States and the more-than 3,000 hearts that break because of it.IMG_1963

We aren’t exactly in a conservative beacon of the country so we knew the day was sure to bring tension and we anticipated the worst of it with prayer as our weapon on the battleground. We encountered angry pro-choicers who wondered how on earth we got permission to put such a display on campus (we did!). We also had the opportunity to chase a fellow student who was attempting to run away with the signs that explained our display.

Fun times.

Other than the anticipated troubles we encountered, people who were very interested in our club and the message of hope we were propagating on campus.

I had the opportunity to converse peacefully with people who were pro-choice and present the case for life. Three of those people are now on our group’s email list. We were also able to attract people who held our views and wanted to become active members of the pro-life group.IMG_1962

The first day was a success. We reached more than 250 people with the peaceful display and got the conversation about abortion on campus rolling. We did what we wanted to do, which was to educated our college community on the silent atrocity that is abortion.
The next day we were met with a counter-display run by some students in the Masters of Arts program. They placed hangers on a clothes line labeled “never again” and a sign that read, “this should never be a surgical device, keep abortion safe and legal. I am pro-choice.”

Statistics for coat hanger abortions are scarce but more importantly, both women and men hurt from legal abortions too. In the woman’s case, she could have substantial physical, psychological and emotional damage coupled with that abortion. Something many pro-choicers fail recognize the destructive aftermath of that choice.

I had the opportunity to make our point clear with the organizers of that display and they seemed to understand that we cared about women and their children, that our goal was to offer them hope and not “oppression.”

Although I don’t agree with the opposition’s views, I appreciated our conversations and if anything, they saw that we cared about women as well.

These conversations are the reason we are going through this lawsuit (while the school did recognize my club, the lawsuit continues in hopes to make substantial changes to current policy), to make Queens College what it should be: a marketplace of ideas and open discussion.

I appreciated our ability to set up our Cemetery of the Innocents Display, our ability to reach our fellow students with this important life affirming message, and our ability change hearts and save lives freely on our college campus.

This freedom was made possible by Students for Life of America and Alliance Defending Freedom, who have been significant forces behind my lawsuit.

At the very least, I appreciated the fact that this event and our presence on campus has people talking about abortion, the greatest evil of our age.

 

Three Days, One Lawsuit, One New Students for Life Club

Last week, Students for Life of America and our attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom helped Norvilia Etienne, a student at Queens College in New York, file a federal lawsuit against her school for refusing to allow her to start a Students for Life club on campus. And then two days later, the school relented and recognized the Students for Life club. #winning

Last fall, Queens College Students for Life and other campus groups applied for “registered” status, seeking to join more than 100 student organizations—including pro-abortion clubs—which are allowed to reserve meeting space, invite speakers, and receive funding from mandatory student activity fees. Officials delayed and then rejected Students for Life’s application without explanation but approved the applications of at least two other groups immediately.

The college gave unlimited power to the Campus Affairs Committee to decide whether a group should be granted official recognition and whether it may receive funding. The lawsuit, Queens College Students for Life v. Members of the City University of New York Board of Trustees, points out that this sweeping authority allows them to deny recognition and funding for any reason, including unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. ADF attorneys explain that public universities cannot refuse to approve a student group without justification and must ensure recognition and student activity funding are approved in a viewpoint-neutral manner.

Because of Queens College’s discriminatory practices, Students for Life members must continue to fund, through the college’s mandatory student activity fees, groups that support abortion but cannot access funds from those fees, which exceed $1,200 per student over eight semesters, for themselves.32201213540_ffc8aea3af_z

“Too frequently we see that public colleges and universities feel they can deny recognition or funding to a student group just because officials don’t agree with the viewpoint of those students,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins. “Queens College was playing favorites while stifling free speech, a typical response of abortion advocates who prefer to silence opposition rather than have a free exchange of ideas. Thanks to the courage of Norvilia and the help of our attorneys, a quick resolution was found and now we can move forward to help Norvilia and Queens College SFL create a culture of life on campus.”

We are thrilled that Queens College recognized that they were treating Norvilia and her Students for Life group as second-class citizens for the sole reason they are pro-life. Parts of the lawsuit will continue for other reasons but the school has recognized the SFL club and Norvilia can move forward with events and campus activism.

Norvilia actually became pro-life because of the extraordinary example of her mother:

“My passion for the pro-life movement stems from my life’s story. When I was 16, I found out that my mother contemplated aborting a fetus, and that fetus was me. Granted my then-17-year-old mother already had an 11-month-old son with an absentee father. After he found out the news, my father also announced that he would not be caring for me, so she had legitimate reasons to worry. But by the grace of God and through the advice of my staunchly Catholic grandmother, she choose to have me.

“Yes, we had a difficult upbringing and didn’t always have the shiniest toys but I’m glad I have my life. I’m glad I was given the chance to grow up and fend for myself as I do now as a college student. My mother is the strongest woman I know!”

We are so proud of Norvilia and her pro-life convictions and we can’t wait to help her make a positive difference for life on her campus!

And the school administration bully strikes again…

And the school administration bully strikes again…

If you have been following our Students for Life High School Initiative, Branford High School in Branford, CT is a school you have been hearing a lot about. Sam Bailey-Loomis, the President and founder of Branford High School Students for Life, has been one of our top high school leaders this past year, participating in our first ever Thaddeus Stevens Fellowship and leading her group to win the 2014 Students for Life High School Group of the Year award.BranfordLeaders2

Sadly though, it is no surprise that her life-saving success has been met with resistance from her administration. Since February of last year, Sam’s principal, Lee Panagoulias, and other administration members have attempted to censor and limit the effectiveness of the Students for Life club at their public school, telling them they could not have life-like fetal models on their education table and making it difficult for them to form and sustain the club. In the past few weeks, Mr. Panagoulias denied Sam and her club the ability to invite others to join the group in the form of clip boarding and handing out literature to students during lunch. The school has also told Branford High School Students for Life that they can only host events after school, a restriction not imposed on other student groups.

When planning the spring semester, Sam met with her principal to ask permission to host events and inform others about her club, going out of her way to be above reproach and adhere to the school’s policies. She came prepared with the Branford High School Student Handbook and made it clear that their proposed events were well within the student guidelines and were similar to those that other students clubs had been approved to do. The principal then told Sam he would “think about it” – a common delay tactic used by school officials across the United States. Over the next week, the principal postponed meetings, leaving Sam in a state of limbo. After multiple attempts, Sam finally got her answer. The club could not hand out pro-life literature, clipboard, or set up an information table in the commons area during lunch.

BranfordTable

Last week, Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to Branford High School and Branford Public Schools on behalf of Branford High School Students for Life requesting that they end their discriminatory behavior against the group. The letter asked for written confirmation by March 12th notifying Sam that her club’s rights will be respected.

Kristan Hawkins, President of Students for Life of America commented, “We cannot sit back while our pro-life students are denied their constitutional rights and bullied by their school administrators. At Branford High School, their is double standard for pro-life students, and we intend to expose this injustice and correct it. We commend Sam and the members of Branford High School Students for Life for their courage and willingness to step up and demand that their school respect their rights, and I am looking forward to witnessing another pro-life student victory.” 

Sam Bailey-Loomis, President and Founder of Branford High School Students for Life remarked, “I hope that the Branford Public School system will respect the students at Branford High School by not acting as a barrier to the student body’s equal access to essential information regarding life. I am proud to be on the front lines alongside abortion abolitionists in high schools and colleges across the country to safeguard our rights, stand up for the preborn, and make a lasting impact on our campuses.”

Students for Life of America is asking all pro-life activists to contact the Superintendent of Branford Public Schools, Mr. Hamlet Hernandez by email at hhernandez@branfordschools.org, or phone at (203) 488-7276, to express their support for Branford High School Students for Life and ask that Branford Public Schools resolve this situation immediately by assuring Sam and Branford High School Students for Life that their constitutional rights will be respected.

To request interviews with Students for Life of America or Sam about this situation, please contact Kristan Hawkins at kristan@studentsforlife.org or 240-678-9620.

Pro-Life Victory at Johns Hopkins!

johnshopkinsprolife_lgLast night we received word that Voice for Life (VFL) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) has officially been granted recognized group status!

This unanimous decision by the Student Government Association’s (SGA) Judiciary Committee overturns the SGA Senate’s rejection of VFL. When we first broke the story with VFL, they had been denied official status because the SGA had deemed sidewalk counseling “harassment” under JHU rules and because of a link on VFL’s website to an organization that posts graphic images of aborted preborn babies.  Internal SGA emails had also revealed a bias among members against pro-lifers, even comparing them to white supremacists and saying they engage in hate speech.

A second update was made when the JHU administration agreed with us and gave an opinion that sidewalk counseling was protected free speech – as the Supreme Court has ruled – and did not violate any university rules or codes.

Kristan Hawkins, President of Students for Life of America, said, “We are so proud of our students in Voice for Life for courageously standing up to the pro-abortion forces in their student government and on their campus that sought to silence them for their beliefs. In this case, the private personal character attacks on pro-lifers as racists and misogynists that we know go on all the time were exposed for the world to see. The national outcry these revelations provoked forced the JHU student government reconsider its anti-free speech stance, but this is the kind of discrimination pro-life students face across the country every day. Students for Life will always fight for students who are attacked and have their rights violated as they peacefully spread the positive Culture of Life on their campuses.

“We stand with Andrew, Monica, and other Voice for Life students as they fight to abolish abortion despite the harassment and hateful allegations hurled their way. They are the leaders of this pro-life generation and we look forward to helping VFL continue to change hearts and minds at Johns Hopkins.”

Andrew Guernsey, President of JHU VFL: “We commend the SGA Judiciary for honoring Johns Hopkins’ institutional commitment to free speech by overturning Voice for Life’s rejection by the SGA Senate. Today is a victory not only for pro-life students here at Johns Hopkins, but for pro-life students around the country. We hope that our story of rising above discriminatory opposition can inspire pro-life students around the country to courageously take a stand for life at their own college campuses.  On behalf of JHU Voice for Life, I wish to thank all our supporters in the Hopkins-Baltimore community and around the country. I especially want to express my gratitude to Students for Life, FIRE, and the Thomas More Law Center for their support in helping us win approval from the SGA. It is important that pro-life students like us who face unjust discrimination on their college campuses know that they are not alone, and that there are powerful resources to help them win the battle for free speech in order to win the war of defending the dignity of every human life.”

Monica Rex, Vice President of JHU VFL: “Now that the SGA Judiciary Committee has approved us, we are ready to begin the real work of saving lives!  While the road was difficult, we have learned just how much this fight for life means to us, and how important it is that students at Johns Hopkins have the opportunity to hear our pro-life message. Johns Hopkins has always stood for the very best in higher education, and we look forward to bringing our pro-life message to future leaders in the medical industry here at Hopkins.”

Media: Contact SFLA Director of External Relations Alexa Coombs at Alexa@studentsforlife.org or 571-295-7352

Johns Hopkins Agrees with Supreme Court, Sidewalk Counseling is Free Speech

UPDATE 4/10/13: Pro-Life Victory at Johns Hopkins!

As we reported last week, Johns Hopkins University’s Student Government Association (SGA) unfairly denied the pro-life group Voice for Life (VFL) official group status.

The Executive Vice President of the SGA had previously told the school newspaper, “The SGA Executive Board found that the proposed group (Voice For Life) intended actions as a club that clearly violates the JHU Harassment and Code of Conduct policies as enforced by Dean Boswell and Rob Turning. We have asked them to resubmit their group proposal without sidewalk counseling. We look forward to reading their updated proposal.”

As we noted at the time, it is not the job of the SGA but the University Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) to determine if Voice for Life’s sidewalk counseling constitutes harassment under school policy.

Today, the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity responded to VFL’s request for a ruling and came down in support of the pro-life group’s free speech rights, saying:

“My view is that the proposed ‘sidewalk counseling’ activities, as described in your email, would not violate these university policies. A student group’s distribution of literature and advocacy of its viewpoint, in the manner set out in your email, would not constitute harassment within the meaning of these policies. In fact, such conduct is fully in accord with the university’s robust commitment to the values of free expression and open debate that is articulated in these policies.” (Read the letter here)

Voice for Life President Andrew Guernsey reacted to OIE’s letter saying, “We applaud the JHU Office of Institutional Equity for making it clear that Voice for Life’s proposed activities are protected free speech under the university Anti-Harassment Policy and Student Conduct Code. The unfounded accusations of harassment and racism from the JHU SGA have been an embarrassment not only to this great institution of Johns Hopkins University, but also are demeaning to the true victims of harassment and racial discrimination. This was all merely a pretext for their desperate attempts to prevent pro-life voices from being heard on campus, but Voice for Life is hopeful that the SGA Judiciary will finally do the right thing, and follow the Office of Institutional Equity’s lead to enforce Johns Hopkins’ institutional commitment to free speech. As our motto states, ‘The Truth will set you Free!'”

Kristan Hawkins, President of Students for Life of America (SFLA), said, “We’re glad that the Johns Hopkins administration is acknowledging what SFLA has been saying all along, in agreement with the U.S. Supreme Court, that sidewalk counseling is protected free speech. JHU must continue to protect its students’ rights to free speech and association by ensuring VFL is allowed to be an official student organization. We need to make sure the SGA Judiciary gives VHL a fair hearing and abides by the school’s own policy at the hearing Tuesday night. The SGA must still account for comparing VFL to a white supremacist group as well as its attempts to censor external links on VFL’s website.”

The SGA Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear VFL’s appeal to be recognized as a student group on Tuesday, April 9th at 5pm. VFL has retained the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, whose mission includes defending the sanctity of human Life.  The Thomas More Law Center is assisting VFL before the SGA Judiciary Committee. We will keep you updated as this story develops.