Student Story

The courage to speak, even when your college calls it “offensive”

As a Christian, I never thought the day would come when the difference between what is right and wrong would be anything but crystal clear. This last year that belief has been tested severely. I consider myself a conservative Christian, and I didn’t believe that Christians should seek justice through the courts, until recently. I am a 28 year-old community college student in Washington State, and I am studying to be a nurse.  Late in 2008, I decided that I wanted to organize a pro-life event on campus with the Christian club. I spoke with the club president and he agreed to the idea, so I set out to make all the arrangements and design the material we would use.  We decided to use statistics and facts on abortion to get students to re-think the issue. The high rates of abortion of Down’s Syndrome babies (9 out of 10), female babies in Asian countries (60 million due to abortion and infanticide) and African-American babies (one out of every two) point to a disturbing underlying issue: as a society, we are systematically disposing of lives that are considered by some to be an inconvenience or of lesser value.   Our materials also included words from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,  that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

After I designed the fliers and display, I gave them to the student body president, who is a personal friend of mine, so that I could get his feedback. I reserved a display case and the date for the event was set. About a week later, I got a phone call. The student body president apologetically explained to me that we would not be able to use the display case or hand out the fliers because of school policies. Through my conversation with him, I learned that the Director of Student Funded Activities decided to shut the whole event down. After I got off the phone I decided to call around see if I could find someone who could tell me if the school was within their rights to prohibit our event, which is how I first came to the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom. 

The club president and I decided to postpone the event until we could find out what the school‘s policies were, as well as what the objections to our event were. One administrator mentioned disciplinary action as a possible consequence for holding the event and we needed to time to discuss as a club whether or not we should pursue it. A couple of weeks passed during which I tried to appeal the decision of the Director of Student Funded Activities to different administrators. At one point it looked like the school was going to let us hold the event, and I thought that the battle had been won. Unfortunately, we found out that this was not the case. During the next club meeting, our faculty advisor came, along with two administrators, to dissuade us from holding the event. She explained how the fliers and display were “racist”, “offensive” and “in violation of state law and school rules.”  

Our college had recently started a program called “Stop the Hate,”which encourages students to report “bias incidents” on campus to a committee composed of faculty and students  who will investigate what happened and assign the appropriate disciplinary action. Every club member present at the meeting was given a handout on what the school defined a “bias incident” to be, which was " any act of conduct, speech or expression to which a bias motive is evident as a contributing factor regardless of whether the act is criminal.” We were also given a paper titled “The Pyramid of Hate,” which listed acts of “prejudice” and “hate,” including using “non-inclusive language,” making “insensitive remarks,”  jokes, and stereotyping, which were a few steps away from murder and genocide. We were warned that if we passed out fliers as a club we could possibly be expelled. Many of the students in our club were in the process of applying to four year universities. It was not a good time for any of us to risk expulsion, and I took the threat very seriously.

Throughout my dealings with the school administrators, I openly told them that I was seeking the advice of a lawyer. My hope was that the school would understand that I considered the matter to be very serious and that they would take it seriously also. Unfortunately, in most of my conversations with them, they would state that we would violate state law or college policies by holding our event. The excuses for shutting down the display and threatening us ranged from, “Washington is a pro-choice state and we can’t use school grounds for a pro-life display,” to “your club is funded by state money so you have to include pro-choice information also.” The faculty advisor for our club, who was supposed to be in our corner, was the one who told us that we faced disciplinary action, including expulsion from school, for holding this event if someone was “offended.”

The decision to go to court was a hard one. Everybody spent time in prayer and fasting and I sought out the advice of my church leaders and closest friends. After much thought and many sleepless nights, some of the club members felt that if they fought the school to hold the event, the club might be kicked off campus. There was also a lot of concern over the club getting bad publicity and losing their witness on campus. I understood and sympathized with their viewpoint.  But I also knew that the abuse of authority would shut doors to the Gospel as well,and Christians would be prevented from sharing their beliefs about issues like homosexuality and abortion without fearing disciplinary action. The truth of scripture has always been offensive to the world, and current school policies dictate that any student who is offended by the words or deeds of another student can report the incident to the “Bias Incident Response” committee. In my heart, I knew that it was inevitable that eventually someone would be disciplined or even expelled for speaking the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that the possibility of punishment would intimidate Christian students into sharing their beliefs less boldly with others. Personally, I couldn’t face the rest of my college career with the thought that I could have helped stop the censorship and bullying taking place at my college, but didn’t. There is a legal term known as ”aiding and abetting”, where if you know someone is breaking the law but you don’t take action, you become an accomplice in the crime through passive assistance. I think it is a good analogy to the position I felt I would be in if I did not take the school to court.

As I look back at the past year and all of the things that have occurred, I know in my heart that I am doing what Christ wants me to do. I am not pursuing the lawsuit out of frustration or anger, although I have experienced these emotions.  As the apostle Paul appealed to Caesar on the basis of his Roman citizenship, I am appealing to the courts to ask that the school respect the civil rights of students to stand up for what they believe and speak out against things they believe are morally wrong. If, through this lawsuit, I can help protect other Christian students from being disciplined or intimidated on the basis of their speech, I will have won a battle well worth fighting.

 

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