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Open Letter From the ACLU and FIRE

An Open Letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri
and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to the Student Bar Association,
Washington University School of Law

October 11, 2002

Dear Members of the Student Bar Association,

We were both surprised and profoundly disappointed to learn of
your most recent meeting, at which the Student Bar Association (SBA)
left unchanged its decision not to recognize Law Students Pro-Life
(LSPL) as a legitimate student group at Washington University School of
Law (WUSL). We hoped that, with time and further thought, LSPL’s right
to exist would become as clear to you as it is to all of the
individuals and organizations that have opposed your decision. We will
try one last time to persuade you to recognize LSPL and to reaffirm
your commitment to tolerance, openness, and pluralism.

The right to private conscience is more than a constitutional
right and an internationally recognized human right. It is also a moral
principle upon which our entire system of liberty depends. By offering
to recognize LSPL only if it modified its beliefs to suit principles
that you found more to your liking, you were asking your fellow
students to betray their deeply held beliefs as a precondition of
enjoying the minimal rights of a recognized organization at WUSL. In
short, you made their moral right to associate freely as a student
group dependent upon their abandonment of their right to private
conscience. No school that believes in freedom and human dignity could
ask such a thing of its own students.

SBA has contended that LSPL's mission is "too narrow" to allow
for recognition. Although the SBA and WUSL routinely recognize
associations organized around group-identity and common interests such
as golf, you have ruled that issues relating to reproductive rights are
"narrow." In fact, issues related to reproductive rights are some of
deepest and most divisive issues in our country, desperately in need of
the sort of reasoned advocacy that produces significant debate. It is
particularly strange for law students to argue that reproductive rights
are a "narrow" issue. For example, you have recognized a student group
organized around interests in the criminal law. Far more individuals
will face reproductive choices than will face the system of criminal
justice, and no one would consider issues of criminal justice "narrow."
Anyone familiar with constitutional law knows that the debates and
battles surrounding reproductive rights have transformed legal notions
concerning control of one’s body, privacy, protest, freedom of
religion, and freedom of speech. There is nothing narrow about LSPL,
except your conception of it.

We are pleased that the administration of WUSL at least
attempted to convince you that LSPL should be recognized. However, we
do not agree that it is appropriate for them to place the autonomy of
the SBA over the fundamental rights of LSPL students. Majority votes by
agencies of power do not trump constitutional rights (and their moral
principles), any more than they undo the moral right to legal equality.
Civilized democracy includes rights so essential to liberty, dignity,
fairness, and decency that we place them outside the power of elected
government to vote them away. Civil liberties reflect, among other
things, the moral necessity of restraint upon power.

Simply put, if you do not live up to your obligations to respect the
deeply held beliefs and rights of your fellow students, you are acting
outside your legitimate powers. The administration of WUSL may not and
must not permit such an action to stand.

We hope that you—as law students and as citizens—understand
that the ideals enshrined in the Bill of Rights are more than just
regulations. They codify moral principles and rights that we, as a
people, believe are inalienable. We ask you to act in the spirit of
these essential moral principles and to recognize the right of your
fellow students to organize in accordance with their own beliefs, even
if you disagree with those beliefs. We hope that the SBA will finally
make the right choice. It is no weakness to change one’s mind when it
is appropriate.


The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Contact Information:

Matt LeMieux, Executive Director, ACLU of Eastern Missouri


Phone: 314-361-2111

Greg Lukianoff, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE


Phone: 215-717-3473