Pro-life group sues university over free speech restrictions
- Boise State University's Abolitionists4Life chapter held a pair of events in April and May that involved graphic images dealing with abortion.
- The university only allowed the group to hold its events in designated free speech zones and required A4L to put up warning signs.
A student pro-life group is suing their university on the grounds that its restrictions on speech are in violation of their First Amendment rights.
Abolitionists4Life (A4L) filed suit against Boise State University (BSU) after the administration made the group put up warning signs near their events and forbade them from distributing literature outside of the designated free speech zone.
The group held two events in late April and early May to share their pro-life ideas with the students on the BSU campus, featuring pictures to spark conversation.
After their event, “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust” was booked on a designated free-speech zone, the administration decided to implement additional restrictions.
Noting the “controversial” nature of the pictures depicted an abortion, the administration said the group would need warning signs to alert students who might be offended walking by, according to the lawsuit.
A4L held another event, titled “What has Roe done for us?”, and used a warning flap to cover an autopsy picture of a woman who died from an abortion.
This proved to be insufficient, as BSU was concerned about the possibility of a passerby viewing the picture unintentionally. The university told the group to place the same warning signs up again.
"Universities are a place where controversial issues are brought up every day and we were simply allowing our campus to see the controversy of abortion for what it really is," said BSU A4L president Lisa Atkins to Idaho Statesman, a local news source. “Just because an issue is controversial doesn't mean we shouldn't be able to talk about it and allow others to understand the issue for themselves.”
Additionally, students were told that they were not allowed to pass out literature about their group or event in other areas on the campus once they reserved the free-speech zone.
However, A4L said the school does not apply this standard universally. They say that several groups have been allowed to hand out materials outside of their designated free-speech zone without retribution, including an event held by Planned Parenthood which gave out free condoms.
“The pro-abortion student groups on campus had put on events promoting their point of view, and they were never asked to put up warning signs.” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America in an e-mailed statement to Campus Reform. “In light of that, the university requiring us to put a sign on our display seemed to be a pretty obvious censorship attempt at our group.”
BSU issued a statement saying that it "encourages and respects the constitutionally protected free speech of students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus," and its policies "reflect numerous court opinions on 'time, place and manner' guidelines and other First Amendment considerations.”
A university that may block constitutionally protected speech is a big concern for Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker, a lawyer from the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing A4L in the suit.
“University policies that suppress free speech are completely at odds with what a university is: a marketplace of ideas,” said Hacker in an issued statement. “Free speech should not be limited to a tiny area on campus, nor should students be told their speech needs a warning sign simply because university officials think their views are ‘controversial.’ Students should be allowed to freely express themselves peacefully anywhere on campus without any unconstitutional caveats, regardless of their political beliefs.”
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