U. of Ala. removes ‘offensive’ pro-life display

School official acted without notifying pro-life student group
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Attorney sound bite:  Matt Sharp

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A University of Alabama official removed a pro-life student group’s hallway display last week without any notification to the group after she claimed that some students found the display offensive. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent the student group, Bama Students for Life, which provided a letter to the university Tuesday to register a formal complaint about the incident.

The display, which featured several abortion-related facts, pictures of women who died as a result of having an abortion, and two small pictures of aborted babies, was among numerous other student group displays. The president of Bama Students for Life captured the official on video claiming that university policy allows her to remove displays that have “offensive or graphic material”; however, the university’s policy pertaining to display cases mentions nothing about offensive or graphic content.
 

 
“Universities are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, not arenas for censoring particular viewpoints just because someone feels offended,” said Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “We support Bama Students for Life and look forward to continuing to working with them to ensure that their constitutional freedoms are protected.”

On Jan. 17, Bama Students for Life placed the display in a display case it reserved in a hallway of the Ferguson Student Center. When the club’s president and another member of the club went to check on the display Feb. 6, they found that the university had removed it. They went to the center’s event coordinator to ask what happened. As recorded on video, the coordinator told the students that she removed the display after receiving complaints that its content was offensive.

As the letter to the university states, “We believe that the removal of our pro-life display violates our First Amendment right to free speech. The United States Supreme Court has said that educators cannot ban offensive speech…. The Ferguson Center permits all kinds of speech by other students and student groups that many people would find ‘offensive’ or ‘graphic.’”

“For example,” the letter continues, “on one bulletin board is an ad for the UA Theatre & Dance program’s presentation of ‘Blood Wedding.’ The poster states that the event is ‘For Mature Audiences’ and features blood stained glass superimposed on a picture of a bride and groom. A few months ago the Ferguson Center Art Gallery displayed student artwork, and one painting showed male full frontal nudity. Other student groups are also permitted to display information about women’s health, safety issues, and the consequences of sex. All of these problems were addressed in our pro-life display that provided facts and information on the harm caused by abortion--both to the infant who is killed and to the mother.”

“This incident is yet another all-too-common example of university administrations attempting to silence speech with which they or others disagree,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, which honored Bama Students for Life as its 2014 Group of the Year. “Bama Students for Life deserves to have its rights protected, and we look forward to the university righting this wrong.”
 
 
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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