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.

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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.