Pro-Life Groups Sue NY University Over Free Speech Infringement

By:  Dave Bohon
07/05/2013
       
Pro-Life Groups Sue NY University Over Free Speech Infringement

New York State's University at Buffalo has become the target of a pair of lawsuits by pro-life groups who claim the school violated their free-speech guarantees.

A campus pro-life group has filed a federal lawsuit against New York State's University at Buffalo (UB) for what it claims are “unconstitutional fees” the school charged the group when it hosted a debate on abortion on campus April 18.

UB Students for Life, a pro-life group that has been an approved student organization on the UB campus since last year, claims it was forced by the college to pay university police officers to attend the event, at a total cost of nearly $650, after the university determined that the event was “controversial” in nature. The group said that the charge exceeded the $150 funding the university provided it as a member of UB's Student Association, forcing it to cancel other pro-life activities it had planned.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the student group by the conservative legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), charges that a public university like UB “is commonly known as the ‘marketplace of ideas.' That marketplace depends on free and vigorous debate between students — debate that is silenced when university policies regulate speech based on content and viewpoint and vest administrators with unbridled discretion to impose fees for the exercise of speech.”

The pro-life group noted that more than 200 people attended the debate and no disruptions were recorded, even as one of the high-priced campus security guards sat by reading a newspaper. And while UB Students for Life was forced to pay the hefty security bill, similar fees were not levied against two other student groups, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the UB Freethinkers, when they hosted a Christians-versus-atheists debate on the campus.

ADF attorneys in the case argue that the UB security fee policy and practice is a violation of the First Amendment “because they grant UB officials unbridled discretion to discriminate against speech based on its content or viewpoint [and] provide no narrow, objective, or definite standards to limit the discretion of UB officials in deciding whether to require security at a student organization event.” According to the complaint against the university, the policy creates “a system in which speech is reviewed without any standards, thus giving students no way to prove that a denial, restriction, or relocation of their speech was based on unconstitutional considerations.”

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