Washington University Muzzles Pro-lifers

October 9, 2002


At Washington University in St. Louis, the Student Bar Association, under the authority of the school’s administration, has interfered with the rights of Law Students Pro-Life, a student group that sought permission to exist.

“Washington University’s chancellor has condoned intolerable restrictions on freedom of conscience, freedom of association, and freedom of speech. Washington University, known historically as a great center of inquiry and debate, is acting as a politically orthodox campus that denies intellectual pluralism and diversity,” said Alan Charles Kors, president of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

SBA twice rejected the constitution of Law Students Pro-Life, thus rejecting any funding, even though all of its members pay the mandatory student activity fee. It also is ineligible for student office space, for a campus mail address, for tax-exempt status and forlisting in the admissions brochure.

You’ll Think What We Want You to Think

In a letter of rejection Sept. 9 to Law Students ProLife, SBA President Elliott Friedman termed “the catching issue” what he labeled “the narrowness of your group’s interests and goals.” SBA “felt that the organization was not touching on all possible Pro Life issues” because it did not have an “anti-death penalty” position in its constitution.

“In short,” Kors noted, “Law Students Pro-Life had the wrong conscience.”

FIRE wrote to Chancellor Mark Stephen Wrighton on Sept. 30 requesting that the university avoid public embarrassment by taking self-corrective measures.

\”Despite meeting all of the requirements stated in the student government’s Approval for Student Organizations By-Laws, Law Students Pro-Life has twice been officially denied the right to exist as a recognized student organization. … The suggestion that Law Students Pro-Life adopt an anti-death penalty stance violates the group’s right to organize according to its own principles,” FIRE wrote.

“It is an attempt to coerce them to espouse beliefs that they may not want to address, or that may even violate their deepest conviction – no institution seriously committed to open discourse would tell students what issues they cannot address; let alone, what issues they must address.”


A meeting between administrators and Law Students ProLife, after FIRE’s letter, failed to resolve the issue.

‘Breathtaking Double Standard’

“This case,” said Kors, “reflects both dreary intolerance and a breathtaking double standard.”

FIRE’s letter noted that the university rightly had recognized freedom of association by its approval of several organizations that some people might find “narrow”: Jewish Law Society, committed to “fulfilling the needs of Jewish students”; Black Law Students Association, committed “to orient, assist and otherwise support African-American students”; Washington University Environmental Law Society, committed to engaging the “intersection of law and the environment”; OUTLAW, committed to fostering an environment that is “supportive, positive, and safe for individuals of sexual and gender diversity”; and the Golf Club, whose mission is golf.

“Put more simply,” FIRE wrote, “your agent’s ruling against Law Students Pro-Life imposes a disability that you do not – and would not – impose upon those of different belief and persuasion.”

FIRE reminded the chancellor that he was ignoring Washington University’s promise stated in its Parent’s Handbook: that the institution “is committed to the principles – of freedom of religion and speech.”

‘Political Litmus Test’

“If this group had held views which passed WUSL’s political litmus tests,” Kors noted, “I suspect strongly that Chancellor Wrighton and his deans would have acted immediately to correct this indecency. He now is fully informed of this act of official intolerance, and it is his duty to fulfill his moral and legal obligations.”

Dean Joel Seligman told United Press International today that he thought the pro-life group’s application would be approved on a third ballot – but that the law school would not tell SBA what to do.

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Schools: Washington University in St. Louis Cases: Washington University: Mandatory University Viewpoint