On June 4, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a lawsuit on behalf of students at the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) after the school’s police allegedly refused to interfere when an April demonstration by pro-life students was effectively blocked by pro-choice counter-protesters. Last week, AFLC announced that a federal magistrate judge has recommended (PDF) that the lawsuit proceed despite UB officials’ request that the suit be dismissed.
AFLC summarizes the facts of the case on its website:
[The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. and Students for Life] followed the university’s procedures to reserve a prime location outside of the Student Union for the anti-abortion display. The request was initially met with resistance from university officials. However, … [t]he officials reluctantly approved the request.
During the actual GAP display, however, university officials permitted protestors to purposely block the graphic, anti-abortion images. At times, the student protestors would use umbrellas and bed sheets to accomplish their task. When the organizers of the event requested assistance from the university police, including its chief of police, they refused, thus prompting this lawsuit.
As FIRE reported back in April, the police didn’t entirely fail to respond—an officer actually arrested adjunct professor Laura Curry for yelling profanity at the pro-life demonstrators. Curry’s speech, while perhaps offensive to some, is constitutionally protected, and thankfully police dropped the charges against her in May.
In contrast, students’ blocking the pro-life demonstration entirely is not protected speech, but rather an act of censorship. UB officials should have taken action to ensure that the counter-protesters did not prevent the demonstrating students from expressing their message. As FIRE has noted in similar cases—such as when protesters at Dartmouth College interrupted a presentation for prospective students in April, and when DePaul University students vandalized a student group’s pro-life display in January—there is an important distinction between sharing an additional viewpoint and silencing another. UB has a duty to allow the former, and prevent the latter, so that all students may contribute to the “marketplace of ideas.”
In recommending that the case proceed, the magistrate judge stated (PDF):
By the end of the [Genocide Awareness Project] exhibit … one group successfully expressed its speech to the detriment of the other group’s speech, consistent with defendants’ reluctance all along to let the GAP exhibit happen.
Read more about the case on AFLC’s website, and check back for updates here on The Torch