Willson: Recent ‘pro-life’ lawsuit represents a win for free speech on campus

Lauren Willson

pro life, administration building, admin
Photo illustration by Tony Villalobos May and Natalie Dyer.

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

CSU recently settled a federal free speech lawsuit that had been filed by an anti-abortion student group, Students for Life. The group was initially motivated to take legal action because CSU had refused to use the grant for an anti-abortion speaker through its diversity grant program. As settlement, CSU compensated Students for Life $600. The diversity grant has since been discontinued.

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CSU’s elimination of the diversity grant program should not be seen as a ploy to appease right-wing minorities. Instead, it reflects the University’s commitment to giving all views equal opportunity of expression by eliminating inequality of funding distribution. More importantly, it shows the University’s growing recognition that free speech does not only include liberal language.

Students for Life’s would-be speaker, Josh Brahm, is the president of the Equal Rights Institute. He is a self-described pro-life activist whose goal is to help pro-life people to be more persuasive when they communicate with pro-choice people by using rhetoric that can hold up under philosophical scrutiny, according to Brahm.

While I don’t agree with pushing anti-abortion sentiment, or extremist political sentiment of any kind, I am a fervent supporter of the first amendment.

It does not seem that Brahm or members of his institute wish to spread forms of speech that are unprotected by the first amendment. These include forms like obscenity, inciting to riot, and causing panic.

So, it’s clear that the speaker coming to campus would not have violated any free speech issues. Nor would it have violated any university policies on free speech and peaceful assembly. Thus, the Diversity Grant Committee’s reasons for denying Josh Brahm from speaking were weak.

The committee claimed, “the speaker’s content doesn’t appear to be entirely unbiased as it addresses the topic of abortion” and said it “worries that folks from varying sides of the issue won’t necessarily feel affirmed in attending the event.”

With any speaker, bias may be present, or certain persons might feel “left out,” but neither one of these is in any way a violation of the constitution or university policies.

It is this oversensitivity—such as that expressed by the Diversity Grant Committee—to controversial opinions which often makes people view liberal and/or democratic minded persons in a disdainful manner. As already established, the arguments put forth by the Diversity Grant Committee hold no legal clout as they lack constitutional support. And ironically, they also demonstrate bias on behalf of the committee in favoring pro-choice messages.

Let me be clear: I want neither to badmouth the committee nor condone the messages of “pro-choice” or anti-abortion speakers. I want this recent lawsuit to serve as an example for future campus conflicts of majority versus minority ideologies.

We cannot claim to be a university that supports free speech and exchange of diverse ideas if we prohibit the rhetoric of those with whom some might disagree. Plus, the majority of college students are 18 years or older. At this point in one’s life, one should be mature enough to handle exposure to ideas that might contradict one’s personal values.

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This is the beauty of our entire campus being a free speech zone. At any given time and in any given place on university grounds, one can bear witness to new ideas and different manners of thought. What better path to knowledge and true education is there than these thought provoking and challenging experiences? None of which I know.

The elimination of the Diversity Action Grant will not deprive student organizations of the ability to apply for speech funding, as other forms of financing exist. And, by shedding greater light on once darkened viewpoints, ideological opponents will be able to discuss their differences and find common ground on which to stand.

Lauren Willson can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @LaurenKealani