BUFFALO — A magistrate judge has recommended that a lawsuit filed by a Christian legal organization against SUNY Buffalo officials be permitted to proceed, and that the university’s motion to dismiss the suit be denied.
The American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) had filed a federal legal challenge against the university following an incident in April of this year, when school officials and campus police refused to stop students from blocking a display exposing the reality of abortion.
The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR) and the SUNY Buffalo chapter of Students for Life has submitted a request to use a prime area on the SUNY campus to bring the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) to students. The project consists of a large mural of photographs that show the similarities between abortion and other human atrocities throughout history, such as the Jewish Holocaust.
At first, campus officials were reluctant to allow the groups to use the space, but eventually granted the request and the two-day project went forward.
However, during the event, a number of students who objected to the display attempted to block the photographs so that they could not be viewed by others. According to AFLC, students used everything from umbrellas to bed sheets to cover up the signs.
The event organizers then contacted the university police department and requested that it intervene and stop students from blocking the display. None of the officers, nor the chief of police, were willing to become involved, and rejected pleas from CBR and Students for Life.
Therefore, the groups contacted AFLC, requesting that it provide legal assistance in the matter. In turn, AFLC filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that SUNY Buffalo had infringed the First Amendment rights of students. SUNY replied by requesting that the case be dismissed, asserting that the case did not show any real constitutional infringement.
On Wednesday, Judge Hugh B. Scott issued a report and recommendation that the case be permitted to proceed and that SUNY’s request for dismissal be denied.
“Plaintiffs thus have pled that what defendants did or allowed equated to a denial of the use of the reserved area, since their message was obstructed as much as if defendants had forbidden the GAP exhibit outright,” he noted.
Scott agreed that it appeared that the university had denied equal protection to the pro-life groups, as those who supported abortion were able to get their messages across with signs and banners, while allowing the pro-life display to be blocked without restriction.
“By the end of the GAP exhibit … one group successfully expressed its speech to the detriment of the other group’s speech, consistent with defendants’ reluctance all along to let the GAP exhibit happen,” he advised.
“Instead of fostering the free exchange of ideas in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ that is a university campus, SUNY-Buffalo officials legitimized and encouraged its students to respond to political speech they don’t like with censorship and the denial of free speech,” stated David Yerushalmi of AFLC. “This is very much the tactic of Alinskyite progressives, who would rather violate the Constitution by denying speech that is contrary to the established ‘liberal orthodoxy.”
“Government officials have an affirmative duty to protect a private citizen’s right to peacefully engage in free speech, particularly when he or she is doing so pursuant to a permit,” co-founder Robert Muise added. “Here, SUNY-Buffalo officials grossly breached that duty in violation of the U.S. Constitution. And while the judge’s report and recommendation is a first round victory, we are confident that we can prove the factual allegations in the lawsuit to ensure an ultimate and final victory.”
AFLC is seeking a permanent injunction, that officials will be barred from allowing students to block pro-life displays in the future.