Phi Beta Cons

Getting it Right at Auburn

Pro-life students — particularly those students who call attention to the graphic horror of abortion — tend to face consistent free-speech challenges. Their protests are moved without notice, hecklers surround their displays and block access, faculty members or administrators sometimes steal their materials, and they are even on occasion threatened with expulsion for merely expressing their views (Heather Hacker at ADF’s Center for Academic Freedom has written a nice summary of recent incidents).

But in the midst of this campaign of exclusion and persecution, there are schools who get things right. A friend forwarded me this note from Auburn University’s dean of students. The dean was apparently writing in response to complaints made against a Justice for All display put up by Auburn Students for Life:

In light of the expressions of concern over the current displays around campus, I wanted to clarify a couple of things:

1. The AU Students for Life is sponsoring the Justice for All graphic anti-abortion displays starting today Wednesday through Thursday, March 25-26, 2009. These displays will be located at the end of Thach Concourse, at the end of Haley Concourse close to Quad Drive, and below the Student Center plaza.

2. Students for Life has a permit for the displays. They are exercising their First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. Auburn University does not support or endorse the message presented by Justice for All.

3. I realize that many of you might disagree with the material and the way it is presented. Again, we do not endorse this approach nor the material it promotes. Auburn University is required by law, as a public inistituion, to make public space available for citizens/groups to exercise their constitutional rights. That is the long and short of the matter for Auburn. I am sure we will have street preachers and others following this display later this week or the next and as long as they are in the public space, they are entitled to be here.

Thanks for letting me know how you feel. I appreciate it.

I particularly like the dean’s clear statement regarding the First Amendment: “Auburn University is required by law, as a public institution, to make public space available for citizens/groups to exercise their constitutional rights. This is the long and short of the matter for Auburn.” Nicely put. The First Amendment makes this an easy call — private citizens can protest public policies, even when those protests offend some members of the community.

Well done, Auburn. Now please do something about your absurd speech code.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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