Standing For Freedom Of Speech On America’s Campuses
These days, students wondering how seriously their college or university officials take the First Amendment are finding it easy to determine the answer. They could ask permission or funding for any number of events or activities, but perhaps the most surefire test is something called the Genocide Awareness Project, or GAP.
"I have no problem with protest … but I do have a problem with them infringing upon my freedom of speech."
GAP uses some graphic images to remind viewers of something most would rather forget: that abortion is the natural extension of a line of government-sanctioned brutality that runs back through human history, including (but not limited to) slavery and the Holocaust. Student pro-life groups, setting up the display along busy walkways and campus quads, are attracting a lot of attention for their cause—and a lot of censorship from campus administrators.
“We’re getting people to talk—and that’s our goal,” says Angela Little, who was a senior at Eastern Michigan University when her chapter of Students for Life of America (SFLA) brought GAP to their campus. “By the time I’m 30, one in three women will have had an abortion. So, basically, everyone knows someone who’s had one.” Like other pro-life students on campuses coast to coast, presenting a wide range of projects, events, debates, guest lectures, and protests, Angela says her group had just one goal: “to get people to say, ‘Is abortion okay?’”
“Groups like SFLA are providing the ideas and resources for pro-life students to engage in effective pro-life advocacy on campus,” says David Hacker, Senior Legal Counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF assists groups like SFLA, he says, when they run into unconstitutional restrictions on speech. Events like GAP show just how widespread those restrictions really are.
Spencer Anderson was a student at Columbus State Community College when he saw an anti-abortion film, 180, that opened his eyes to how common abortion is among college students (more than half of all U.S. abortions involve women under 25). Spencer wondered if he could help change that. Through Facebook, he befriended other pro-lifers—and learned of GAP.
He spent months trying to secure permission for the project from school officials. It finally came—with strict limits on how much of GAP could be shown, and where. Officials also brought in the police, and both hovered so much that Spencer wondered, “Why is my voice being squelched?”
"Why is my voice being squelched?"
Angela’s SFLA group couldn’t even get past their own student government leaders, who denied funding for the GAP event, saying it was too “biased” and “controversial”—even though they‘d approved funding for plenty of controversial displays and events biased toward leftist views.
“I got mad,” Angela says. “I’ve paid hundreds of dollars in student fees every year, and never seen any of it go to a group I actually agree with. Just because they’re a big university doesn’t mean they’re always right. Sometimes, they need to be confronted.”
At the University at Buffalo in New York, Christian Andzel and his SFLA group confronted some 250 pro-abortion students who stormed their GAP presentation, overwhelming the pro-lifers and hanging umbrellas, shower curtains, and bedsheets over the pictures. Local police, brought in to keep order, simply stood by and watched.
“I have no problem with protest,” says Christian, who says his passion on this issue stems from being put up for adoption as an infant in Columbia, by a mother who might easily have aborted him. “Bring it on, and we’ll debate—but I do have a problem with them infringing upon my [and my club’s] freedom
Christian, Angela, Spencer, and their pro-life groups soon joined the dozens of students and organizations who each year enlist ADF attorneys to defend their rights, as protected by the First Amendment. Hacker says the three students’ experiences “represent common threats to religious liberty and free speech on campus,” a censorship he says is “rooted in a campus culture that is hostile to Christian and conservative students.”
ADF attorneys have successfully interceded for thousands of students at schools nationwide—including Christian, Angela, and Spencer—restoring their right to speak thoughtfully about issues like abortion and share their faith in ways that may nudge their fellow students out of their comfort zone.
“Because of groups like SFLA, students today are more pro-life than the previous generation,” Hacker says. “We’re seeing many more young people respond positively to the pro-life issue and want to go out and tell others.” By holding to their beliefs amid backlash and controversy, he says, Angela, Spencer, and Christian are showing students facing similar censorship that they, too, can stand for their right to speak freely—even against universities that demand their silence.