Western Ky. Univ. turns blind eye to vandalized pro-life display

ADF attorneys send letter to university on behalf of student club that sponsored display
Friday, April 27, 2012

ADF attorney sound bite:  Travis Barham

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund sent the president of Western Kentucky University a letter Thursday on behalf of a pro-life student club after an art student desecrated its display of crosses by draping them with condoms and calling it an act of art and free expression. The letter explains that university officials, including the student’s teacher, were either aware that the vandalism was going to occur, did nothing to stop it, or even condoned the student’s actions.

“Vandalism is vandalism. Calling it ‘art’ or ‘free speech’ doesn’t change that,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Travis Barham. “The First Amendment does not allow one student to hijack another group’s display, and university officials shouldn’t turn a blind eye to any kind of vandalism, let alone support it.  The pro-life club was exercising the freedoms that the First Amendment actually protects, and WKU officials are obligated to protect those freedoms, not passively allow them to be violated.”

Hilltoppers for Life, with the permission of university officials, erected about 3,700 crosses in an old football stadium on the WKU campus to commemorate the number of lives lost to abortion every day in the United States. On the morning of April 20, Elaina Smith, a WKU art student, began placing condoms on each of the crosses. When members of Hilltoppers for Life confronted her and asked her to stop, she refused. Later, she claimed that she was “completing an approved art project” by desecrating the display.

When campus security officers finally arrived, they did not take any action against her. Later, Smith’s teacher, Kristina Arnold, reportedly told reporters that she did not disapprove of the student’s proposed vandalism, which demonstrates she was at least aware of the plan and did nothing to stop it. Smith has refused to apologize for desecrating the display.

The ADF letter asks WKU officials to take several actions to ensure that pro-life speech is fully protected, including conduct a full and thorough investigation into the incident, instruct Smith to apologize publicly to Hilltoppers for Life, provide assurance that she will not receive academic credit for her vandalism, and discipline her under the Student Code of Conduct for her destructive actions. The letter also asks that disciplinary action be taken against the student’s art teacher for facilitating the vandalism.

“We hope that WKU will demonstrate its commitment to free speech by making sure that Hilltoppers for Life can hold future displays without fear of further vandalism,” said Barham. “But we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the constitutionally protected rights of these pro-life students will not be violated again.”
 ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.