Students for Life University of South Alabama, along with Alliance Defending Freedom, filed an amended complaint last Friday in a continuing lawsuit against the University of South Alabama regarding free speech.
The university relegated the group’s pro-life display to a small speech zone on campus because it deemed the nature of the event “controversial.” Under the university’s policies, students must also obtain a permit 72 hours in advance in order to use the speech zone. Earlier this month the university adopted new free speech rules but they are still prohibitive to the pro-life view and still restrict free speech for a very limited portion of campus, alleges the amended complaint.
“Students for Life USA were discriminated against specifically for being pro-life and wanting to protect the lives of the preborn,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, the national parent group of Students for Life USA. “Universities are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas and for university administration officials to single out a viewpoint that they don’t agree with and force them to do things that they didn’t make other groups do, is not only a violation of the First Amendment but against the free exchange of ideas on campus. It is our hope that Students for Life USA will be able to freely showcase the pro-life viewpoint on campus without discrimination or harassment.”
Last October, Students for Life USA requested permission to a hold a “Cemetery of the Innocents” event, which consists of students placing small crosses in the ground to represent the innocent lives lost to abortion. University officials denied the request and said it would need to be held in the campus’s speech zone, even though other groups have exercised free speech on other portions of the campus. At the time, the speech zone was restricted to the Student Center, which was less than one percent of the college’s main campus. Although the university has since expanded its speech zone, it still restricts speech throughout the campus.
The lawsuit, Students for Life USA v. Waldrop, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, explains that the university’s speech policy violates the First Amendment and gives university officials “unbridled discretionary power to limit student speech in advance of such expression on campus and to do so based on the content and viewpoint of the speech.”
“Free, spontaneous discourse on college campuses is supposed to be a hallmark of higher education rather than the exception to the rule,” added ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “We hope that the University of South Alabama will revise its policy so that its students can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”