“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 college professor at Fresno State University made that statement while he defaced life-affirming messages that had been chalked by Students for Life members 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 Students for Life of America, we are working to change that. In 2017 alone, Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Academic Freedom has represented five Students for Life groups across the country, including Fresno State, defending the First Amendment rights of pro-life students.
1. 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, the school has since revised its policies, protecting the freedom of speech for Students for Life and all other students.
2. 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. The case is still ongoing, but Students for Life is officially on campus, which is a huge win for freedom.
3. 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 agreement with the school that eliminated the unconstitutional policies and paid the group the money that the university had withheld.
4. 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.
5. Fresno State University: As described above, a 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. Again, ADF represents Students for Life in taking on this blatant violation of the First Amendment.
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 115 new campus chapters founded in the second half of 2016 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.
Students for Life works tirelessly to defend the unborn. But they 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 courage is something that Students for Life and the students in these chapters have never lacked. We are thankful that they have been willing to further their mission by standing in the gap and defending free speech rights for all students on college campuses. The ADF Center for Academic Freedom will keep working to defend Students for Life, securing their and every student’s right to freedom of speech on college campuses.
Working with ADF attorneys, Lorie Smith’s case currently awaits a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, after a lower court ruled against her earlier this year.