Pro-life students compel Kutztown to drop speech restrictions

Kutztown University of Pennsylvania has agreed to stop censoring student speech based on “content” after an employee was caught erasing a student group’s pro-life chalk messages.

University officials maintained that the incident was simply a misunderstanding in a statement provided to The Washington Post, but confirmed that the school’s speech policies have been revised to “better reflect our support for free speech.”

Members of the university’s Students for Life chapter encountered a school employee washing their messages away during National Pro-Life Chalk Day in March, only to be told that the employee was “just following orders” when the students objected.

[RELATED: Pro-lifers demand that Kutztown stop stifling their speech]

School policy broadly permits chalking on “sidewalks and other uncovered walkways,” but imposes restrictions on content that is “incompatible with the University’s Statement on Non-Discrimination,” prompting attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to send a letter to the administration pointing out that the U.S. Supreme Court has deemed such content-based restrictions “presumptively unconstitutional” unless the government can show that they “are narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests.”

In its response, Kutztown insisted that it “supports free speech, including through our posting and chalking policy,” claiming that its revised chalking policies are intended to prevent the sort of “misunderstanding” that led an employee to erase the pro-life messages.

“The incident in March involving a right-to-life group was simply a misunderstanding as the messages were erased during campus cleaning,” the statement explained. “When the university administration became aware of the situation, the group was immediately informed that it has every right to chalk its messages on our campus.”

[RELATED: Lawsuit: Queens treats pro-lifers like ‘second-class citizens’]

ADF officials praised the policy revisions in a press release Monday, even as they appeared to indicate skepticism regarding the school’s explanation.

“Under the initial guidelines, the university could have censored a huge number of messages that officials didn’t find palatable, and that’s what happened with Students for Life,” ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox pointed out. “The new policy ensures that won’t happen again to anyone.”

“Too frequently we see that public colleges and universities feel they can engage in censorship of a student group just because officials don’t agree with the viewpoint of those students,” added Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “Playing favorites while stifling free speech is, sadly, an all-too-common response of abortion advocates who prefer to silence opposition rather than have a free exchange of ideas.”

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