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Recalling the First Amendment

Posted on November 9th, 2009 Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Sacramento City College celebrated Constitution Day this past September with a host of speakers and events, all geared toward remembering our Nation’s social compact and discussing its relevance today.  The event included the distribution of free pocket constitutions.  Unfortunately, a few students and administrators didn’t get a copy, or, at least, didn’t read it.

A few weeks before, a group called the Genocide Awareness Project applied to the Associated Student Government for permission to participate in Constitution Day and set up a display on September 16-17.  The ASG approved the application without investigating who GAP is.  When GAP showed up on September 16, the students and administrators learned that, gasp, GAP was a pr0-life organization.  Two administrators immediately contacted the ASG President, Steve Macias, and demanded that he tell GAP to leave campus.  Mr. Macias refused because GAP had a constitutional right to speak and obtained proper permission to do so. 

The administrators recognized the irony in their request–attempting to censor a group based on its viewpoint the day before Constitution Day–and agreed with Mr. Macias, right?  Wrong.  They continued to demand that GAP leave, or turn its signs inward so students could not see them. 

A few days later, a petition circulated around campus to recall Mr. Macias because he refused to censor GAP.  Under ASG’s constitution and bylaws, once enough signatures are collected and validated by the judicial branch, the commissioner for student affairs sets a date for the recall vote on campus.  Instead of following these procedures, ASG’s advisor simply approved the signatures on his own and set a recall vote date.  The date was later reset after Mr. Macias complained to the College president.  But instead of realizing their previous procedural errors, the ASG then held a meeting that violated state law and voted to set a new date for the recall vote.  Not only that, but ASG officials made untrue statements about Mr. Macias to the campus newspaper and passed an illegal resolution trying to divest Mr. Macias of his presidential duties. 

Instead of applauding Mr. Macias’ leadership in defending the First Amendment rights of others, students and administrators at the College are not just trying to recall a student body president, but the ideas and principles of the First Amendment itself.  As a result, last Friday, the ADF Center for Academic Freedom sent a demand letter to the College, asking it to invalidate the illegal recall and protect Mr. Macias’ rights.  It’s time for the College to remember what our Constitution says.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - University Project

Charges dropped against University of Calgary pro-life student group

Posted on November 4th, 2009 Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The Canadian government dropped trespassing charges today against six members of Campus Pro-Life at the University of Calgary.  The students were charged with trespassing after they refused to turn pro-life billboards inward during a campus display in November 2008. 

I’ve previously commented about the outrageousness of this situation, but it is worth noting the simplicity of the students’ defense:  “‘It confirms our position that we do have the right to be on our own campus,’ said club president Leah Hallman.”  How sad that the students had to suffer trespassing charges and retain a lawyer just to fight for the right to speak equally and freely on their own college campus. 

The government made the right call in this case, but the University and the police should never have brought these charges.  Unfortunately, the University told reporters that it will take time to “reflect on this development.” 

Let me offer a possible reflection:  protect the marketplace of ideas by allowing all speakers equal access to the campus and do not censor viewpoints, no matter how much they dislike it.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - University Project

"Just Kidding" Defense Trumps First Amendment Rights

Posted on October 28th, 2009 Uncategorized | No Comments »

As David French discusses at Phi Beta Cons, a protracted legal battle between Brothers Under Christ (BYX) and the University of Florida (UF) took an unfortunate turn yesterday.  The Eleventh Circuit dismissed BYX’s lawsuit against the University, saying that it was no longer a live controversy.  The history of the case and the University’s actions render this decision quite disturbing.

BYX is a Christian fraternity.  Like many student groups that organize around a set of beliefs, BYX limits its membership to students who adhere to the group’s core beliefs—in this case, Christian beliefs.  On May 17, 2007, UF refused to let BYX become an official registered student organization because it considered BYX’s membership standards to amount to “religious discrimination” that violated the University nondiscrimination policy.  Thus, instead of using the nondiscrimination policy as a shield to protect religious organizations, UF—like many other public universities—used it as a sword to punish BYX for its religious beliefs.

BYX sued to preserve its First Amendment rights to free speech, free association, and the free exercise of religion.  For almost two years, UF resisted the litigation in the face of clear Supreme Court precedent holding that nondiscrimination policies cannot be applied in a manner that would burden a private group’s First Amendment rights to organize around a wide variety of beliefs.  But after oral arguments at the Eleventh Circuit, UF got cold feet.  At the last possible moment, it changed its policy, registered BYX, and moved the court to dismiss the appeal, essentially telling the court, “We were just kidding.”

Surprisingly, the Eleventh Circuit granted UF’s motion and dismissed the case for mootness, essentially holding that there was no longer a reason to litigate.  Unfortunately, this ruling provides no security for the student group other than the “good faith” of the same university that fought so hard to keep it off campus.  Moreover, the decision encourages universities to resist constitutional compliance and discourages student groups from seeking to hold universities accountable for their unconstitutional policies.  Why wouldn’t university officials fight the little student group on campus when they can wear it down through protracted litigation and then change the policies at the last possible instant—without penalty—if things look bad?

In short, the Eleventh Circuit has made judgment day for public universities a more remote possibility, and thereby darkened the constitutional horizon for students and student organizations in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

Author

ADF Litigation Staff Counsel - University Project

Simply Ludicrous

Posted on October 28th, 2009 Uncategorized | No Comments »

Over at Phi Beta Cons, David French highlights one of the most ludicrous statements of the day, a letter from Professor Gerald Horne entitled “Stalin Was No Worse than the Founding Fathers.”  Such nonsense merits quoting in full:

Jonathan Brent expresses surprise—if not shock and disgust—at what he sees as the rehabilitation of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in contemporary Russia (“Postmodern Stalinism,” The Chronicle Review, September 25).

Pray tell:  Is there any analytical difference between the phenomenon he perceives and the glorification and hagiography that bedeck the slaveholding “founding fathers” of his own United States (not to mention those that founded the settler colonies upon which this slaveholding republic was based)?  Or is the difference that in this latter case, after all, we are discussing the brutalization of only Africans, and in the former case, non-Africans—and we all know that the lives of one are worth more than the lives of the other?  Or is the difference that Stalin’s rule lasted 30-odd years while North American enslavement was a process that stretched over centuries?

The obvious absurdity of this “moral equivalency” becomes all the more vivid when one considers the magnitude of the horrors that Stalin and his comrades unleashed during the 20th century.  But when faculty members like Professor Horne dominate academia by ratios between 8-to-1 and 30-to-1, outlandish statements like this sadly become standard university fare.

Update:  Apparently, Professor Horne is actually just regurgitating Vladimir Putin’s arguments from several years ago.  In refuting Putin (and thus Horne), Dr. Paul Kengor of Grove City College draws from recently declassified KGB documents and the work of one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s aides to place the wave of Soviet atrocities that claimed the lives of 60 to 70 million Russians in its proper context.

Author

ADF Litigation Staff Counsel ADF Center for Academic Freedom

Audio of Roman Catholic Foundation v. Walsh oral arguments at the Seventh Circuit

Posted on October 28th, 2009 Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments in Roman Catholic Foundation, UW-Madison, Inc. et al. v. David G. Walsh, et al., a case involving the viewpoint discriminatory allocation of student activity fees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The case involves a First Amendment challenge to the University’s policy that requires students to pay a mandatory student activity fee, but bans the use of the fees for any student organization activity that includes prayer, worship or proselytizing. 

ADF Senior Vice President and Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence argued the case on behalf of the student group.  Our colleague, David French, discusses the implications of the hearing over at Phi Beta Cons.  The audio of the oral argument can be found here on the Seventh Circuit’s website.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - University Project

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