On March 12th, a pro-life group at Johns Hopkins University, Voice for Life (VFL), was denied the right to become an official student club by the Student Government Association (SGA) during a student Senate meeting, after having been recommended for approval by the SGA Appointments and Evaluations Committee.
At that same SGA meeting, though, another new group was approved called Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Although SJP has a history of anti-Semitism and disruption on other campuses, the SGA decided that the students from JHU creating the group were separate from other campus affiliations, and they couldn’t be punished for potential violations. Somehow, these standards were not applied to Voice for Life.
This general body meeting was followed by an SGA Town Hall meeting the next day whereupon the decision was further expounded. The SGA explained that they decided not to grant official club status to Voice for Life because:
1) The pro-life group’s intentions to peacefully engage in sidewalk counseling off campus at a Baltimore abortion facility “clearly violates the JHU Harassment and Code of Conduct policies.”
2) One of the 100 pro-life organization links on the Voice for Life website sent visitors to the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform’s website, which was judged to be “offensive.” CBR has brought their Genocide Awareness Project (GAP), which features images of aborted preborn babies, as well as Holocaust victims, and victims of lynching, to Baltimore near the JHU campus in the past.
On Tuesday, March 26th, JHU Voice for Life was rejected again by the Student Senate, and the case will now go to the SGA Judiciary Committee for review, which will be on Tuesday, April 9th at 5:00pm.
Former SGA Vice President and the drafter of the SGA Constitution Evan Lazerowitz wrote to the current members in support of Voice for Life, “The fact is, quite simply, that the SGA’s actions constitute viewpoint discrimination, which violates the SGA Constitution. I am particularly concerned that SGA members actually told a student group leader that he should remove certain web-links or not undertake certain actions simply because they personally disagreed with them. Concern about a group’s message, and groups that it supports, definitely violates the free speech guarantee of the SGA Constitution because the SGA is passing judgment on the viewpoint of the group.”
Last night, an anonymous person forwarded an email chain between SGA members in a listserv that talked about Lazerowitz’s message on Voice for Life. One top SGA executive member sent a simple statement, “And this is why we don’t approve groups like Voice for Life,” and linked to a Think Progress article entitled “Racist Hate Group To Conduct Nighttime Patrols On College Campus” about a white supremacist group at Towson University called the White Student Union. This association is particularly offensive to Voice for Life members, especially its African American members.
A class senator of the SGA, said in the e-mail chain that she objected to Voice for Life because of the GAP display on campus, saying she and others “felt personally violated, targeted and attacked at a place where we previously felt safe and free to live our lives … this sidewalk attack on how abortions are hateful and such amounts to hate speech.”
Regarding Voice for Life and free speech, the senator said, as a private university, “we have the right to protect our students from things that are uncomfortable. … Why should people have to defend their beliefs on their way to class?”
Voice for Life President Andrew Guernsey says, “It is inconsistent with the JHU’s motto ‘The truth will set you free’ for the SGA to try to hide its students – many future doctors and nurses – from the truth about abortion and how it hurts women, families and, most of all, innocent preborn babies. In fact, at the abortion facility a block from Hopkins campus, a woman died this month and the Maryland government had to step in. If someone was there to sidewalk counsel on that day, that woman and her baby might still be alive today.
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“Voice for Life previously existed as an official JHU campus organization between 1995 and 2010. We want to revive the group to help women facing crisis pregnancies and preborn babies, and to help educate students on life issues at Hopkins. We just want to exercise our right to free speech and association, but the JHU SGA decided to reject us with their repeated assertion that sidewalk counseling constitutes harassment under JHU policy. SGA’s persistent opposition to Voice for Life, despite their lack of authority to determine and apply university policy, reveals an underlying intolerance of the pro-life position.”
Kristan Hawkins, President of Students for Life of America (SFLA), commented on this case by remarking, “Sadly, this pro-life group at Johns Hopkins University is not alone. Because the school is considered a ‘private university’ they believe they have the right to limit the free speech of students. Time and time again we have seen this happen, especially on ‘private’ college campuses, where a handful of students believe it is their duty to limit discussion of abortion on campus. College is where you should be forced to think about hard issues like abortion and learn to defend your beliefs. And trying to link a peaceful, pro-life organization to a white supremacist group is beyond the pale. Abortion is the greatest human rights battle our nation currently faces, and we can’t allow it to be swept under the rug at Johns Hopkins or at any university. The time is now for pro-lifers across the nation to act and contact the JHU President, Ronald Daniels, and demand he step in and defend the constitutional rights of these JHU students.”
Ultimately, it is the University Office of Institutional Equity that will determine if Voice for Life’s sidewalk counseling constitutes harassment under school policy. And action is needed right now to ensure that university policies on free speech are enforced and all students’ rights are protected at Johns Hopkins University!
Contact JHU’s President Ronald Daniels at:
Office of the President
Tell him to approve the pro-life group Voice for Life as an official group on campus right away!
LifeNews Note: Alexa Coombs is the Director of External Relations for Students for Life of America.