Wednesday, June 26, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 150


 
 









 

Pro-Life Cougars win battle over display

By Ed De La Garza
The Daily Cougar

Students may have more to look at than long lines and construction tape during the first few weeks of the Fall 2002 semester. Pro-Life Cougars, a group that attempted to bring a pro-life exhibit to campus in November 2001 and later sued the University in January because it was prohibited from displaying that exhibit, was granted an injunction by a federal judge Monday.

U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. ruled that because the University violated a group's first amendment rights, Vice President for Student Affairs Elwyn C. Lee and Assistant Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students William Munson were barred from imposing a policy as published in the 2001-02 Student Handbook.

The display, which includes images of aborted fetuses and text explaining the photos, made its debut on campus in March 2001. That display was brought to Butler Plaza, the area between M.D. Anderson Memorial Library and Philip Guthrie Hoffman Hall, by Justice For All through the Free Speech Coalition.


Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar


The pro-life display depicting aborted fetuses may make its way back to campus in the fall semester after a U.S. District judge barred the University on Monday from prohibiting Pro-Life Cougars from displaying the exhibit at Butler Plaza.

But when Pro-Life Cougars and its chairwoman, senior political science major Sherree Tullos attempted to bring it back late last year, requests for the use of Butler Plaza were denied by Munson.

At the time, Munson and Lee cited the handbook, specifically page 65, and the passage under "Disruption of University Operations and Events." The handbook states "The university will not permit any individual or group of individuals to disrupt or attempt to disrupt the operation and functioning of the University by any device "

But in the ruling, Werlein's states such a policy constituted prior restraint. "The unbridled discretion conferred by the University's policy upon its decisionmaker, the Dean of Students, to impose a prior restraint on student expressive activity in Butler Plaza, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution," the ruling states.

Munson declined to comment but University spokesman and Executive Director of University Communication Mike Cinelli said the University was not attempting to curb an organization's freedom of speech but rather, the time, place and manner in which it elected to exercise that right.

Further, the judge's ruling was based on the 2001-02 version of the handbook, a version that included language that will be changed when the 2002-03 handbook is published.

"The preliminary injunction addresses a policy that no longer exists," Cinelli said. "There is a new freedom of expression (portion) in the handbook."

Under new University policy, as signed by UH President Arthur K. Smith on Tuesday, no displays or organizations will be allowed on Butler Plaza. The policy, which Cinelli said would be included in the new handbook in some form, limits "free expression areas" to four locations: Lynn Eusan Park, The University Center Patio (near Melcher Hall), The UC Arbor and the UC Satellite hill. While the previous version of the policy did not include Butler Plaza, it did not exclude it as a location.

"What (the University) is going to try to do is say that we're under the new policy," Tullos said. "But the judge said the new policy has no jurisdiction."

In fact, the ruling stated that "(The University had) exhibited an undated, unnumbered draft of a freedom of expression policy The formal adoption (of the policy) had not occurred at the time of hearing." Additionally, it states that Pro-Life Cougars' "constitutional challenge is not moot notwithstanding Defendant's claim that the challenged policy been or is about to be replaced by a new policy."

Benjamin W. Bull, an attorney for Pro-Life Cougars, told the Houston Chronicle the group would return with its exhibit near the start of Fall 2002, but Tullos told The Daily Cougar the group had not worked out the details on an exact date yet. She said the display would be exhibited at Butler Plaza.

"This is a win for all groups," Tullos said. "This is our University. This is not a pro-life thing. It's about free speech on a public campus."

The lawsuit is expected to go to trial April 2003.
 

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