Baltimore, Maryland — A pro-life student group is being denied recognition by a popular university over its pro-life views and activities because the school found that the group made others “uncomfortable” like white supremacists.
Voice for Life is a student group at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and is stated to be unaffiliated with any particular political or religious group. Its Facebook page outlines that its goal is to make students on campus more aware of issues concerning the constitutional right to life.
“We believe that all human beings have an inviolable right to life, and that practices like abortion and euthanasia unfairly take this right away from the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society,” the page explains. “VFL asserts that abortion is a sign that we as a society have not met the needs of women and that we need to work harder to provide women with the resources they need so they don’t feel coerced to choose abortion. Women deserve better than abortion, and we strive to help eliminate the root causes of abortion.”
Recently, Voice for Life was denied recognition by the Student Government Association (SGA) on campus, which means that the group is barred from receiving funding or holding its meetings on school grounds. The association voted 10 to 8 last month in rejection of the group, and the SGA Senate followed a couple of weeks later.
In discussing the reasons for denial, members of the association pointed Voice for Life to an article about a white supremacist group at another university.
“And this is why we don’t approve groups like Voice for Life,” the student wrote in a private email chain, which has been obtained by reporters.
Another association member explained that she did not like the group’s pro-life displays on campus because she “felt personally violated, targeted and attacked at a place where we previously felt safe and free to live our lives.”
“[W]e have the right to protect our students from things that are uncomfortable,” added a SGA senator. “Why should people have to defend their beliefs on their way to class?”
Others stated that the group’s sidewalk counseling outreach at a nearby abortion facility amounted to “harassment,” and therefore, violated the school’s Code of Conduct.
But Monica Rex of Voice for Life disagrees with the association’s characterization.
“Our sidewalk counseling is purely educational,” she told local television station FOX 45. “We would be standing outside of the abortion clinic that’s about a block away and just offering literature [and telling women], ‘This is what the fetus looks like at this age.’ So on and so forth.”
A former president of the SGA likewise stated that the university’s denial was improper.
“The fact is, quite simply, that the SGA’s actions constitute viewpoint discrimination, which violates the SGA Constitution,” Evan Lazerowitz told reporters. “I am particularly concerned that SGA members actually told a student group leader that he should remove certain web-links or not undertake certain actions simply because they personally disagreed with them. Concern about a group’s message, and groups that it supports, definitely violates the free speech guarantee of the SGA Constitution because the SGA is passing judgment on the viewpoint of the group.”
The university has been unwilling to discuss the matter, but released an official statement on Monday.
“Johns Hopkins University is strongly committed to open debate and to the values of free speech and academic freedom,” it wrote. “These defining values of American higher education drive us to afford individuals and groups on campus the freedom to advocate for their views. The university’s obligation is to create a community where freedom of inquiry and expression thrive.”
“The decision made by the Student Government Association not to recognize Voice for Life as an official student group is being reviewed by a student appeal committee,” it continued. “It is important that the student leadership be afforded the opportunity to review the earlier decision under its own policies and in light of the university’s commitment to broad debate and freedom of expression. It is our understanding that this review will take place shortly.”
An official hearing is set for April 9th before the Johns Hopkins Judiciary Committee.