Free speech is a constitutional right for all Americans, guaranteed under the First Amendment. But a disturbing trend on many college campuses across the country has arisen — suppression of free speech on the basis of political correctness or opposing views. In the Spring of 2016, Colorado University (CU)-Boulder‘s student government’s Cultural Events Board attempted to block pro-life speaker Abby Johnson from speaking to students on their campus. According to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) the student board was expressing “viewpoint discrimination.” Once ADF engaged the student board and presented the case against such discrimination based on First Amendment rights, CU-Boulder reversed their decision and Ms. Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood facility director, was able to present her talk.
CU-Boulder is hardly an isolated case. What are these colleges and student governing groups afraid of? Could it be they fear any opposition that might prove them wrong?
On January 17, 2017, the Students for Life (SFL) at Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins called upon ADF to assist them after a similar act of “viewpoint discrimination” was targeted at them. Emily Faulkner, student president of SFL at CSU, noted that SFL had hosted two other pro-life speakers this fall including Catherine Davis, a founding member of the National Black Prolife Coalition and Alveda King, director of Civil Rights for the Unborn. SFL did not request any grant funding for these two speakers.
Unfortunately, when SFL invited a third pro-life speaker — Josh Brahm from the Equal Rights Institute — and applied for diversity grant funding, they were declined, even though nearly all students pay into the diversity funding. Ms. Faulkner was notified that funding had been declined because Mr. Brahm was not “entirely unbiased” and some people “won’t necessarily feel affirmed in attending the event.”
Students for Life is an official student-led organization at CSU, a public university. Every full-time, on-campus student at CSU is required to pay a mandatory student fee. According to a federal lawsuit filed by ADF, “During the 2016–2017 academic year, the University collected more than $55 million in total student fees, and each full-time, on-campus student paid $831.89 per semester in mandatory student fees.” According to the CSU Diversity grant guidelines, one of the benefits of becoming a recognized student-led organization include the eligibility to receive funds from the mandatory student fees for programs “that give dimension to our commitment to diversity.”
In a brief filed by ADF, the legal organization points out that CSU is violating SFL’s constitutional rights by forcing them to contribute to the student fees — which support viewpoints they oppose — without affording them an opportunity to respond in kind.
Colleges and universities, the most recognized institutions of higher education, should afford students an opportunity to express their First Amendment rights by allowing them to engage in discussions and debates that are open to opposing views. Such debate enables the students to evaluate diverse views, engage in critical thinking, and determine where they stand, what they believe, and why. When students are mandated to pay student fees, as they are at CSU, the mandate for CSU should be that these fees are utilized in a “view-point neutral” manner. They cannot exclude opposing pro-life views, under the excuse that they are not “entirely unbiased.”
Alexksandr Solzhenitsyn, a critic of the Soviet Union and communism who was eventually expelled from the Soviet Union, cautioned the West in a speech at Harvard in 1978: “It is time in the West to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.”
Students for Life is a student organization that is founded on the premise that all human life, from conception until natural death, is sacred and has inherent dignity. In both the CU-Boulder case and the more recent CSU case, SFL stepped up. By courageously defending their right to free speech, they also exercised their “human obligation” to defend the dignity of life.
Their right to be a voice for the voiceless should be well-recognized and proudly allowed in the “marketplace of ideas”.