ANN ARBOR, MI – In a charged controversy over students’ right to free speech at a private university, Voice for Life (VFL), a pro-life student organization seeking official recognition as a student club at Johns Hopkins University has turned to the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) for help. TMLC is a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, whose mission includes defending the constitutional rights of pro-life groups and individuals.
The Johns Hopkins’ Student Government Association (SGA) turned down VFL’s application for official recognition. The reasons offered by the SGA for its decision: that VFL’s intention to peacefully engage in sidewalk counseling off campus at a Baltimore abortion facility violates the University’s anti-Harassment and Code of Conduct policies, and that VFL’s website includes a link to the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform’s website, which features images of aborted preborn babies considered by members of the SGA to be “offensive.” One member likened VFL to a white supremacist organization.
The SGA vote to deny recognition to VFL occurred on March 12 and that vote was affirmed by the SGA’s Senate on March 24th. VFL has appealed to the student Judiciary Committee which will hear the case on Tuesday, April 9, at 5 p.m. at the Mason Hall Boardroom. Andrew Guernsey, VFL’s president and Chris Fernandez, VFL’s treasurer, will represent VFL before the Judiciary Committee. Guernsey has previously framed the issue as one of free speech.
Last Thursday, April 4th, TMLC emailed a letter to the top Johns Hopkins University officials and the Judiciary Committee laying out the legal basis requiring recognition of VFL.
Richard Thompson, TMLC’s President and Chief Counsel, commented on the controversy, “The actions and comments by members of the Student Government Association are puzzling and in stark contrast to the public statements of University officials who thus far have clearly come out in favor of free speech. Moreover, the University’s Office of Institutional Equity has already issued a written opinion stating that VFL’s proposed sidewalk counseling activities are in full keeping with the University’s policies that value free expression and open debate.”