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 help organizations. 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.