Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pro-life student prompts review of unconstitutional speech policy

Via the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):
Ohio's Sinclair Community College (SCC) has announced that it will review an unconstitutional policy that prohibits all distribution of literature on campus by individual students. SCC banned a student from distributing literature about abortion, birth control, and breast cancer to her classmates after class. . . . SCC student Ethel Borel-Donohue's story began during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month last October, when she distributed roughly 15 flyers relating to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month to various students in her Probate Law I course after class. . . . The flyers discuss possible risks of breast cancer related to birth control and abortion.
I always like to highlight stories about freedom of speech. This is no doubt due in part to some personal biases (I'm a law student), but it's important for the American public to realize that the pro-life movement is not only out there fighting for the right to life-- we are also on the cutting edge of free speech advocacy.

Throughout history, the Supreme Court's interpretation of the First Amendment has unfortunately varied based on the political popularity of the speech at issue. When many free speech plaintiffs were Communists, the Court interpreted the First Amendment very narrowly, limiting the plaintiffs' right to distribute pamphlets. Once the Communist threat was seen as less serious, the Court began to support greater free speech protections. And when sympathetic plaintiffs whose pro-civil-rights speech had been suppressed started bringing cases to the Court, the First Amendment lived up to its promises.

Now, we have a new wave of plaintiffs: pro-life advocates. And, sadly, the pro-abortion Justices of the Court have not consistently recognized free speech for us. Perhaps the most egregious example is the 2000 case of Hill v. Colorado, which restricted speech, displays of signs, and distribution of pamphlets outside of abortion facilities. Justice Scalia's dissent, which is worth reading in full, attacked the pro-abortion majority's hypocrisy head-on:
None of [the majority's] remarkable conclusions should come as a surprise. What is before us, after all, is a speech regulation directed against the opponents of abortion, and it therefore enjoys the benefit of the “ad hoc nullification machine” that the Court has set in motion to push aside whatever doctrines of constitutional law stand in the way of that highly favored practice. Having deprived abortion opponents of the political right to persuade the electorate that abortion should be restricted by law, the Court today continues and expands its assault upon their individual right to persuade women contemplating abortion that what they are doing is wrong.
In light of the Supreme Court's attitude, the pro-life movement must be extremely vigilant, working to secure our right to speak the truth whenever it is threatened. I applaud Ms Borel-Donahue's courage, and hope that the SCC's policy review will have a positive outcome.

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