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.
“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!