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Voice for Life appeals SGA’s rejection
By ASHLEY EMERY
Published: March 28th, 2013
Views: 7,676 views

 

The Voice for Life v. JHU SGA trial is currently underway, stemming from the Student Government Association’s (SGA) initial rejection of Voice for Life’s application for Student Activities Commission (SAC) approval on March 12.

This past Tuesday, March 26, the club was again unsuccessful in their pursuit of SAC approval.

The Editors-in-Chief of The News-Letter as well as the JHU Voice for Life President Andrew Guernsey received an email forwarded from an anonymous account last night containing internal correspondences from within the SGA Listserv. The top message in the email featured an executive member linking to an article from Think Progress about Towson University’s White Student Union conducting nighttime patrols.

The emails sent to The News-Letter last night reveal that an anonymous individual has obtained and disseminated private SGA emails from their account regarding this trial.

It is unknown whether the information has been limited to the two aforementioned recipients or if it has a wider scope.

Prior to The News-Letter bringing the emails to the attention of Michael St. Germain, Executive Treasurer of the SGA, the organization had no knowledge of the internal emails circulating.

“The case of Voice for Life v. JHU SGA is not about the content of the message but rather the method in which it is delivered.

“As an executive board member, the SGA Executive is meeting with the Hopkins General Council tomorrow to seek the best way to go forward in this case. I am not able to provide any further comment as it is an ongoing case,” St. Germain said.

The Club

Voice for Life is a club on campus dedicated to a strong pro-life message.

According to the mission statement of the JHU Voice for Life, it aims to defend the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being from conception until natural death, and especially to be a voice for the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society threatened by abortion, euthanasia and the destruction of human embryos for research.

“We sponsor discussion about biological issues of controversy like abortion. It’s important to have this discussion on a college campus because it needs to be had, especially on a campus with many future doctors,” Guernsey said.

The club is not affiliated with the Center for Bioethical Reform, which has held pro-life protests on N. Charles this year and in the past, and does not take a stance on that issue.

The Case

After the rejection that the club faced from the SAC on March 12, they returned to the SGA Town Hall meeting the following day to uncover the reasoning behind their decision.

SGA rejected the application due to two issues primarily. It asserted that a link on the club’s website was offensive to some viewers because of the content it contained concerning the issue of abortion, which was not in conformity with University policy, according to Guernsey.

Furthermore, SGA deemed one of the club’s proposed activities, sidewalk counseling, to be in conflict with the University’s policies on harassment.

Guernsey commented on what Voice For Life’s proposed sidewalk counseling would entail.

“In the case of Voice for Life’s involvement in the practice of sidewalk counseling, our members frequently stand on the public sidewalk outside the abortion clinic on N. Calvert Street, and speak to women in a peaceful, non-aggressive manner, hand out literature, provide information about life issues and the abortion clinic itself — in an effort to persuade the individual (it may be the parent, boyfriend or the woman herself) not to have an abortion, and to choose life for the child in the womb,” Guernsey wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

He said that his organization would not allow any shouting or physical obstruction of women seeking to obtain an abortion.

It also pledged to comply with all civil laws concerning harassment and the non-obstruction of clinic-access.

Despite these assertions, the Executive Board ruled against the club.

“The SGA Executive Board found that the proposed group (Voice For Life) intended actions as a club that clearly violates the JHU Harassment and Code of Conduct policies as enforced by Dean Boswell and Rob Turning. We have asked them to resubmit their group proposal without sidewalk counseling. We look forward to reading their updated proposal,” Executive Vice President Alex Schupper said.

Because Hopkins is a private institution, it maintains the right to determine the extent to which students exercise their right to free speech at the University.

Guernsey, however, believes that their ruling contradicts the 5th Amendment of the SGA Constitution, as well as its equal protection clause.

Hopkins alumnus and former Executive Vice President Evan Lazerowitz helped rewrite the SGA Constitution before his graduation in 2010.

“When we rewrote the SGA constitution, one of the things we put in was a free speech protection clause,” Lazerowitz said. “When I heard about the treatment of Voice for Life, I was upset with the way SGA treated them. It’s always worse when the people that the students elect act this way. From my perspective, I believe that what happened is contrary to the free speech clause.”

Lazerowitz, furthermore, asserts that the SGA should have consulted with the University rather than determine what constitutes harassment.

“I believe that what they should have done first is go to the University and the Office of Institutional Equity and have their lawyers decide whether it violates the harassment policy.”

Guernsey additionally believes that the University should make the decision, not SGA, due to their biases.

“I believe the ruling shows viewpoint discrimination. It’s not SGA’s role to make the decision. It’s the University’s.”

Lazerowitz acknowledges that Hopkins has the authority to make the decision as a private institution, but is upset.

“There are plenty of groups like this on other college campuses. It’s disappointing. There is pretty unanimous support for free speech. Hopkins is not bound by the First Amendment, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t follow it, like students at a public university.”

With the Voice for Life rallying against the SGA legislative body’s decision, the SGA Judiciary Committee now has the role to overturn or maintain the ruling.

A trial is set to ensue in the coming weeks of this semester.


13 Responses to “Voice for Life appeals SGA’s rejection”

  1. [...] Updates on Voice for Life vs. JHU SGA. A fair and balanced article.  http://www.jhunewsletter.com/2013/03/28/voice-for-life-appeals-sgas-rejection-40816/ [...]

  2. Jared says:

    I don’t understand how this could not be considered harassment. It’s completely tasteless. Tell me, would anti-war activists be allowed to go on campus and wave pictures of dead and mutilated soldiers in people’s faces to try and drum up opposition to the wars in the Middle East? How is that any less tasteless than what they’re advocating here?

    • alumna says:

      Exactly. Or a group that asked black people (politely! Without shouting!) to consider going back to being slaves. Or better yet, try to persuade the black person’s BOYFRIEND OR PARENT, politely and without shouting, to have the black person going back to being a slave!

      The fact that pro-life groups still have a foothold in our society has nothing to do with free speech, and everything to do with the fact that women’s bodily autonomy is not held in the same regard as the bodily autonomy of men, or minorities.

      THANK YOU, SGA.

    • Matt says:

      I thought John Hopkins was supposed to be a smart school, but with your terrible arguments, you guys look a little unintelligent to say the least. If a fetus is nothing more than a parasite, how can pictures of it be considered offensive? Would a picture of any other dead parasite be considered “tasteless”?

      So by comparing dead fetuses to dead soldiers, you are saying they are both dead humans! Thank you for defeating yourself. War is terrible, causes the destruction of life, and should only be used to keep others alive. The same with abortion.

      • mark says:

        Right on. These pro-abortion sickos just want to keep making money from the blood of innocents. They are no different from the warmongers.

    • Mike M says:

      In 2008, anti-war activists were invited onto campus, under the auspices of the Dean of Student Life, to advocate murdering officers in our military.

  3. Thad says:

    Mike M, I have a hard time believing that the university invited people who were actually arguing for murdering fellow Americans. That is an extremely bold and dubious claim. Some evidence might be nice…

    That being said, while I think this anti-choice group engages in disgusting and immoral behavior, the SGA was probably wrong to deny them recognition. Protesting outside abortion clinics is not illegal, nor should it be in a society that understands that the cure to bad speech is good speech, not the suppression of the bad speech.

    While as a private university Hopkins is not legally obligated to protect free speech, as a place of learning the University is morally obligated to do so. That means that if the SGA is going to deny recognition to student groups, it must be for content neutral reasons (such as failing to have a certain number of students or something), not because their message and tactics are controversial (or even evil).

    • Libpuncher says:

      LOL @ “Anti-Choice”. I guess that mean you’re anti-life, which sounds 10x worse. Be careful of the liberal words you use, they can be turned against you.

  4. Phil says:

    Conducting sidewalk counseling at abortion clinics as long as it violates no laws is not a reason to reject this group. While one may question the effectiveness or appropriateness of such counseling, if it’s legal, it’s wrong to reject this group’s request. One would think at one of the most top liberal universities in the nation free speech would be valued and all viewpoints allowed to compete in the marketplace of ideas. The SGA should reverse itself. Disappointing to say the least and supports a conception that social liberals do not support free speech when such speech do not support their viewpoints.

  5. Ken says:

    As a civil rights litigation attorney I suggest the University raise its insurance policy limits. This is a blatant violation of first amendment and religious freedom rights.

    Beyond that, this is supposed to be an institution of higher learning.Fear of facts is not helpful to that.

    • Pat says:

      To Ken, the civil rights attorney: Besides the obvious violation of free speech, Johns Hopkins is being nonsensical as JHU teaches that human life begins at conception. This is a quote from JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY Bloomberg School of Public Health, division of Reproductive Biology, dept of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
      “The goal of sexual reproduction is to combine the genomes of two individuals, passing DNA on to the next generation and creating a new, genetically distinct individual.” Common sense states that if you are a unique individual at conception, that is when you are “created equal” under the laws of the USA. and…yes….I do hold that the above truth is self-evident.

  6. Sandra says:

    Ken,
    If you really were a civil rights litigation attorney you would know that Johns Hopkins has not violated either the first amendment or religious freedom of its students. Students in opposition to abortion rights can publish their opinions. They have every opportunity to voice there views in public forums. Moreover the university has done nothing to limit any of its students from practicing their religion. The Student Government Association has voted not to recognize Voice for Life, a judgement made on grounds that are highly debatable.

  7. Libpuncher says:

    This is only about one thing: Liberal indoctrination. John Hopkins is a big liberal college that is keen on nothing but political correctness and indoctrinating the student to be liberals. This group is doing nothing wrong but because they have an opinion different from the “tolerant” liberals, they were denied. If anyone has seen zombie movies where the zombies are lifeless and can only do few things on their own, that’s what college kids are now in these extreme liberal colleges.

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