Pro-life group wins approval at Johns Hopkins

April 10, 2013

Johns Hopkins University reversed course on its stance against a student pro-life group, granting the organization full recognition late Tuesday.

The student judiciary unanimously overturned an earlier decision by the student senate to deny Voice for Life (VFL) recognition because its planned activities included sidewalk counseling outside abortion facilities. 

According to minutes of the March 12 meeting, during which the club was denied official recognition, members of the senate said they feared the group would “make people uncomfortable.” They also suggested the pro-life group shouldn’t get recognition because the school’s pro-abortion group had disbanded.

In a letter protesting the decision, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education warned the school it was on shaky legal ground: “The viewpoint-based rejection of VFL in this case contradicts the principles established by the Supreme Court when it held that public universities are required to grant expressive student organizations recognition and access to the funding of student activities on a viewpoint-neutral basis. … Although the [Student Government Association] is not legally bound by the First Amendment, it fundamentally abandons Johns Hopkins’ institutional commitment to free speech and undermines First Amendment principles when it acts to stifle speech that it does not like.”

Johns Hopkins is a private university, not bound by First Amendment protections, but the school pledges to protect the free exchange of ideas on campus.

School administrators, who had not interfered with the student senate’s process, said in a letter to Voice for Life organizers the school did not believe the group’s activities would violate school policy.

“A student group’s distribution of literature and advocacy of its viewpoint, in the manner set out in your email, would not constitute harassment within the meaning of these policies,” wrote Caroline Laguerre-Brown, the school’s vice provost for institutional equity. “In fact, such conduct is fully in accord with the university’s robust commitment to the values of free expression and open debate that is articulated in these policies.”

Schools: Johns Hopkins University Cases: Johns Hopkins University: Viewpoint-Based Rejection of Pro-Life Group