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Supreme Court of the United States

Pro-Life Cougars v. University of Houston

Last Updated: 5/29/2020

Overview

What's at stake

  • The right of pro-life student groups to use campus facilities on an equal basis with other groups
  • The freedom of speech on public universities for pro-life groups
  • The freedom from discrimination at public universities based on pro-life content or viewpoint  

Summary

Justice For All (JFA) is a pro-life organization that puts up persuasive outdoor exhibits promoting life and showing the truth about abortion on college campuses.  In the fall of 2001, the Pro-Life Cougars, a student organization, invited JFA to come to the University of Houston with its display.  The group sought permission to put up a display in public space on Butler Plaza previously used by pro-abortion groups like the National Organization of Women and Planned Parenthood. The University refused to allow the exhibit on the main part of campus because it found the pro-life message (with pictures of pre-born babies at various stages of development) to be “potentially disruptive.”  The University persisted in restricting the pro-life exhibit to the fringe of campus, even after Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys wrote and pointed out the unconstitutionality of this treatment. The Pro-Life Cougars were forced to choose between suing or accepting this unconstitutionally unequal treatment. 

"These students had the guts to litigate for their rights.  They won everything they asked for and then some. This should be a message to other public universities that restrict pro-life speech on campuses," said Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Benjamin Bull. 

After Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of the student organization to obtain equal access to the campus, the federal court declared the university policy unconstitutional and ordered the pro-life display to be allowed on the main part of campus accessed by other student groups.

The ruling changed the University of Houston policy, opening Butler Plaza to pro-life student exhibits, and allowing distribution of pro-life leaflets.

Our role in this case

Alliance Defending Freedom Chief Counsel was lead counsel and litigated the case.  This ruling has served as precedent enabling Christian groups to receive access to a public forum on an equal footing with other groups. 

Resources

Legal Documents

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