Pro-life club appeals after being denied campus recognition

Johns Hopkins University Seal CNA US Catholic News 4 3 13

A pro-life student group at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., is appealing a denial of official recognition, saying that it is being discriminated against for its views against abortion.

Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America, told CNA that this decision is surprising, given that Johns Hopkins administration and students "pride themselves on being a 'free speech campus' – allowing dissenting opinions on campus and allowing a free exchange of ideas on campus."

She added that there is a need for "upholding freedom of speech that isn't popular."

Voice for Life, a pro-life organization that is trying to re-start on the Johns Hopkins campus after several years of dormancy, has been rejected multiple times by the university's student government, despite receiving clearance from the necessary committees as having met all campus requirements.

Meeting minutes on the Johns Hopkins student government website indicate that the student senators were "concerned with making people feel uncomfortable," and asked whether "a Hopkins group be involved in this much activism."

Student government officials justified their decision at a later town hall meeting, according to Students for Life, by saying that Voice for Life's intentions to participate in sidewalk counseling "clearly violates the JHU Harassment and Code of Conduct policies."

The student government leaders also pointed to one out of more than 100 links on the Voice for Life website, which leads to a separate organization displaying graphic images of aborted babies, alongside images from the Holocaust and other graphic events.

Voice for Life has already pledged that they will not use graphic images of abortion either at on- or off-campus events.

Students for Life said that it obtained a subsequent email from a student government executive linking to a Think Progress article on a white supremacist student organization at a different university, along with the text "and this is why we don't approve groups like Voice for Life."

Students for Life characterized this comparison as "particularly offensive to Voice for Life members, especially its African American members."

Voice for Life will now appeal the decision in a Student Judiciary trial on April 9. 

"Obviously our hope is that the SGA Judiciary will overturn the decision by the SGA and accept our group on campus," Monica Rex, vice president of Voice for Life, told CNA. "If that's not the case, then we will appeal to the administration."

Rex added that she is surprised by the whole situation, "because we thought they would support two viewpoints on campus."

"Johns Hopkins University advertises itself as a defender of free speech and public statements with the motto 'The Truth Will Set You Free,'" she explained, "but Voice for Life is being discriminated against because of its pro-life viewpoints."

Rex said the existence of Voice for Life is particularly crucial on a campus known for its medical school.

"Hopkins is one of the world's premier science and medical universities, but is unwilling to have a conversation about abortion."

Andrew Guernsey, president of Voice for Life, echoed Rex's surprise to see that Voice for Life has been treated "as second-class students" for its beliefs.

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"When we see something that's offensive, we tolerate it as free speech," said Guernsey. "We encourage the other side to bring their views, and we'll bring ours to the table, and let the truth win out."

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