by Robby Soave
Administrators at the University of Alabama secretly removed an anti-abortion display because some students found it offensive — a clear violation of pro-life students’ First Amendment rights, according to a free speech group.
Student Claire Chretien, president of Bama Students for Life, reserved space in the Ferguson Student Center to display a pro-life poster featuring pictures of aborted fetuses and a caption insisting that abortion is a human rights violation.
But last week, she noticed that the poster was missing from the display case, according to Campus Reform.
A visit to University Events Coordinator Donna Lake resolved the mystery: Administrators removed the poster due to complaints from students.
Chretien’s conversation with Lake was captured on video and published by the Alliance Defending Freedom.
“If we receive complaints about it, we have to take it down,” Lake told Chretien.
The pictures of dead babies were “offensive” to some students, and graphic and offensive displays violate campus policy, according to Lake. (RELATED: First Amendment, pro-life flyers shredded on Georgia campus)
The administrator insisted that the policy was neutral and equally enforced. “It’s just like if somebody put up something that upset you in some way that you felt deeply about,” she told Chretien.
Chretien replied that she “probably wouldn’t want them to take it down,” if the situation were reversed and she was the one offended, however.
Lake also told Chretien that she was lucky the poster survived as long as it did, since hypersensitive students could have petitioned for its removal much sooner.
Chretien told The Daily Caller that her First Amendment rights were clearly violated.
“Our group was very upset that the university decided to trample all of our First Amendment rights,” she said.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education agreed with Chretien, and criticized the administrator’s faulty understanding of the Constitution. Pro-life students have a First Amendment right to display a poster that offends other students, according to FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley.
“It’s chilling to watch a public university administrator casually and blatantly violate the First Amendment and censor a student viewpoint,” he told The Daily Caller. “Worse still, the administrator’s attitude strongly suggests that this sort of censorship is so routine at the University of Alabama that it’s barely even worth raising an eyebrow.”
The policy, even if enforced in an even-handed manner, would violate the First Amendment. But there is evidence that the policy has not even been evenly enforced. Chretien told Campus Reform that previous displays included posters depicting full-frontal male nudity and bloodstains.
The explicit purpose of the First Amendment is to prohibit government agents from censoring controversial messages, said Chretien.
“We don’t have the First Amendment so we can talk about the weather,” she said.
Administrators’ eagerness to prioritize selective prevention of offense over free speech speaks volumes about the state of the modern American college campus, according to Shibley.
“Those who still deny that there is a crisis of free speech on campus need to watch this video and wake up to the reality that things have gone terribly wrong in the very places in our nation that should be most dedicated to free speech and free thought,” he said.
Lake did not respond to a request for comment.
The Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Bama Students for Life. The group has asked the university to apologize for censoring the poster and allow Chretien to display it again.
Schools: University of Alabama