BALTIMORE — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday challenging the University of Maryland-Baltimore County’s speech zone and speech code policies on behalf of a student pro-life group. The group claims school officials used the speech zone policy to deny it the same access to highly visited areas of campus that other student groups enjoy.
“Pro-life students shouldn’t suffer discrimination for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Steven H. Aden. “In this case, university officials are using an unconstitutional ‘speech code’ to censor and marginalize these students, even though these zones directly violate the First Amendment. America’s colleges and universities should recognize the constitutional rights of pro-life students just as they do for other students.”
On April 17, 2007, Alexander Vernet, a student at the university, reserved space for the school’s Rock for Life club to put up a pro-life display called the “Genocide Awareness Project.” At first, officials granted the student group’s request to set up in front of the University Center, where the maximum number of people could view the display.
Later, the University’s Office of Student Life informed Vernet that it had moved the display to a patio area of the Commons building. Vernet and Rock for Life accepted the change, although it would allow exposure to fewer students. However, when the group began on April 30 to set up its display, a university official, backed by campus police, ordered the students to move the display to a large vacant field between the Commons and the library, an area where few students pass.
University police cited the speech zone policy, which allows school officials to “move an event to a different location without notice” as rationale for relocating the display. Also, the university’s speech code policy prohibits any speech that “creat[es] an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational or working environment.”
“The university has clearly set up a system that allows them to restrict speech with which they disagree,” said Aden. “We hope this lawsuit will restore a true ‘marketplace of ideas’ on campus so all groups, including pro-life groups, can enjoy the same access to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
A copy of the complaint filed in Rock for Life-UMBC v. Hrabowski in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division, is available here. ADF-allied attorney Steven Tiedemann of Stronghold Advisors, LLC, of Columbia is serving as local counsel for the case.
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom defends religious freedom at America’s public universities. ADF is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.