The Student Government Association at Johns Hopkins University has denied official recognition to a group of pro-life students, and one SGA leader privately equated them with white supremacists.
Voice for Life, a JHU student group that engages in pro-life activism, including counseling women outside of the front doors of abortion clinics, was twice denied official recognition last month. The SGA voted 10-8 to reject the group — cutting it off from student activities funding and building access for meetings — due to concerns that its activism constituted harassment.
Some members of SGA also thought that a link on the Voices for Life website, which sent visitors to a Web page that featured graphic pictures of aborted babies, was offensive.
SGA leaders elaborated on their opposition to the group in a private e-mail chain that was obtained by Life News. One member of the student government, whose name was withheld, sent an e-mail that said, “And this is why we don’t approve groups like Voice for Life.” He then linked to a ThinkProgress article about a white supremacist group at Towson University.
Not all SGA members agreed with the decision.
“The fact is, quite simply, that the SGA’s actions constitute viewpoint discrimination, which violates the SGA Constitution,” wrote Evan Lazerowitz, former president of SGA. “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.”
Peter Bonilla, an associate director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free speech advocacy group, said SGA’s actions were irresponsible.
“The student government can’t reject recognition of a group simply because it doesn’t like the group’s politics,” he said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.
JHU is a private university, but one that nonetheless guarantees its students First Amendment protections. Voices for Life’s activities do not constitute harassment, said Bonilla.
“As far as I know, Voices for Life has done nothing to indicate that this is actually some form of unprotected harassment,” said Bonilla. “This activity takes place on a facility that isn’t a part of the Johns Hopkins campus, so it’s questionable whether the student government’s authority applies here.”
Bonilla mentioned on-site protests of Chick-fil-A and big banks as other examples of recognized student groups engaging in the same forms of activism as Voice for Life.
Voice for Life has appealed the decision to the campus judicial body.
SGA did not respond to requests for comment.
Anne Hobson contributed to this story.
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