In January, University of Alabama (UA) student group Bama Students for Life reserved a hallway display case and set a pro-life poster inside it in accordance with the school’s written policies. But when group president Claire Chretien checked the case last week, the poster had been removed. Chretien smartly turned on her camera to record her subsequent conversation with Ferguson Student Center Event Coordinator Donna Lake, in which she asks why the display was removed and receives an answer that reveals a stunning ignorance of UA’s legal obligation as a public school to abide by the First Amendment.
Lake makes no pretense in explaining why the poster was taken down: “If we receive complaints about it, we have to take it down.” In response to Chretien’s polite questioning, she elaborates: “It’s just like if somebody put up something that upset you in some way that you felt deeply about.” For Torch readers, the problem with this should be obvious: If any objecting student were allowed to silence any other student just by stating that the expressed viewpoint upset them, the campus would be completely devoid of meaningful speech. Particularly when students are empowered to silence others on issues they care deeply about (abortion frequently being one of those issues), this will leave students completely unable to discuss matters of public concern and importance.
In the video, Lake states that there is an online policy prohibiting “offensive or graphic material” in displays, but as Alliance Defending Freedom pointed out in its press release, no such restriction appears in the school’s “Display Cases Policy.” Judging from UA’s actions, if this rule did exist, it would prohibit a vast range of constitutionally protected speech (such as the contents of the poster in question). It would also likely chill a significant amount of student expression, since those wishing to use the display cases would be forced to guess at what administrators or students will subjectively find “offensive.”
Watch the video and find more details about the incident on Alliance Defending Freedom’s website, and stay tuned to The Torch for updates.
Image: University of Alabama campus – KPS Group, Inc.