“College campuses are not free speech areas. Do you understand? Obviously you don’t understand.”
Yes, you read that correctly. And no, that is not an excerpt from 1984.
A professor at Fresno State University made that statement while he defaced life-affirming messages that Students for Life members had chalked on a university sidewalk.
Unfortunately, statements like these are not uncommon on college campuses today. Today’s college students are more pro-life than ever, but they are not necessarily free to express their pro-life views on campus. Through our partnership with our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom, we are working to change that. In 2017 alone, the ADF Center for Academic Freedom has represented six Students for Life groups across the country, including Fresno State, defending the First Amendment rights of pro-life students.
- Kutztown University of Pennsylvania: Students for Life participated in National Pro-Life Chalk Day by chalking pro-life messages on various sidewalks around campus, but university officials then erased those messages. Thankfully, with our assistance, the school has since revised its policies, protecting the freedom of speech for Students for Life and all other students.
- Queens College: Students for Life was denied the ability to form an official club and meet on campus, a right that pro-abortion groups already exercise. After the ADF Center for Academic Freedom sued the school, it immediately granted Students for Life official club status. And in November, it agreed to overhaul its policies to comply with the Constitution.
- Colorado State University: Students for Life was denied access to funds from mandatory student activity fees purely because its speaker was pro-life. On May 30, ADF reached a settlement agreementwith the school that eliminated the unconstitutional policies and paid the group the money that the university had withheld.
- California State University San Marcos: Students for Life was denied $500 in funding to host a visiting speaker, even though the university funds pro-abortion and other favored views with almost $300,000 in student fees. Partnering with ADF, Students for Life is taking on this violation of the rights of all students, seeking to ensure a true marketplace of ideas – including pro-life ideas – on this campus.
- Fresno State University:As described above, Gregory Thatcher, a public health professor, and several students he recruited erased Fresno State Students for Life’s chalked messages and told the students that they could only express themselves in the so-called “free speech area.” One problem. Fresno State actually has no such area, and the group obtained approval for its messages in advance. In response to an ADF lawsuit, Thatcher has agreed to pay $17,000 and undergo two hours of First Amendment training. In addition, a federal court issued an order that prohibits him from disrupting future Fresno State Students for Life events.
- Miami University of Ohio, Hamilton: The Students for Life chapter sought permission to hold its regular Cemetery of the Innocents display on the campus quad. The display features many small crosses that represent the human lives lost to abortion. Last October, when Students for Life President Ellen Wittman emailed campus officials about the upcoming display, she was told she must put up signs warning people about the content of the presentation, due to the “emotional trauma” it might cause for those who saw it. ADF attorneys have sued the school on behalf of Students for Life.
These university actions denying pro-life students the right to express themselves on campus come at a time when students are more receptive than ever to the pro-life message. A plethora of recent studies have shown that young people are becoming more uncomfortable with abortion, including wanting to deny Planned Parenthood taxpayer funding. Perhaps this is why Students for Life of America has seen 120 new chapters founded in 2017 alone.
Young people are increasingly supportive of the pro-life cause and willing to speak out in defense of unborn children. But that is difficult to do when your school silences pro-life and other conservative voices.
College officials have a duty to uphold the Constitution and teach students that our freedoms are worth defending, even when they disagree with the speaker. Instead, they are teaching our students – who will be tomorrow’s legislators and government officials – all the wrong lessons: that free speech is not an inalienable right, but a privilege granted by their university administration, and that their free-speech rights can change based on what viewpoints a government official favors.
We here at SFLA work tirelessly to defend the unborn. But we can only do that effectively if pro-life students are free to speak up on their college campuses. It takes courage to sue your school, but Alliance Defending Freedom has your back. We are thankful that ADF has been willing to stand in the gap and defending free speech rights for all students on college campuses.