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.
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.
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.