Pro-Life Cougars files
lawsuit against UH
By Tim Williams
Daily Cougar Staff
A pro-life student organization and
its chairman filed suit in federal court against the University and two
of its administrators Tuesday, alleging a violation of their First Amendment
right to free speech.
Administrators refused to permit the group
to display an exhibit containing pictures of aborted fetuses on Butler
Plaza, between M.D. Anderson Memorial Library and Philip Guthrie Hoffman
Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar
Students stop to view an
anti-abortion display in March 2001 at Butler Plaza. The display caused
turmoil when students and passersby said they were disgusted by the images.
Pro-Life Cougars and its chairwoman,
Jeanne Tullos, sought to display the 15,000-square-foot exhibit last fall
between Nov. 5 and 8.
Dean of Students William Munson
and Vice President for Student Affairs Elwyn Lee, both named defendants
in the suit, offered to permit the exhibit to be shown at two alternative
campus locations either Lynn Eusan Park, an area west of the University
Hilton, or the University Center Patio, bordered by Melcher Hall and the
In an Oct. 23, 2001, memo to Tullos
and Pro-Life Cougars' legal counsel, UH General Counsel Dennis Duffy said,
"I am surprised at your statement that the locations are inadequate, given
that Ms. Tullos informed Dean Munson in their last meeting on the subject
that the University Center patio was an acceptable location and appeared
to meet the physical requirements of the display."
The alternative display sites were
unacceptable for the group's true purpose, Tullos said in a phone interview.
"Lynn Eusan is obstructed by trees
and people wouldn't be able to walk up and talk with us," she said.
Tullos is a political science junior
and former member of the Free Speech Coalition, which sponsored the exhibit
during its three-day display on Butler Plaza in March 2001.
The exhibit, operated by Kansas-based
Justice For All, appears regularly on state university campuses and has
drawn student protest for its graphic nature.
Tullos' and Pro-Life Cougars' counsel
contends that UH's policy regarding "potentially disruptive" events, like
an exhibit that draws protest, is not content-neutral as required by the
The determination of what constitutes
such an event is left up to Lee and Munson, but UH President Arthur K.
Smith has the authority in an emergency situation to quell disruption.
At question is the UH Student Life
Policy regulating expression that could cause "disruption of university
operations and events."
The policy, outlined fully on page
65 of the 2001-2002 Student Handbook, establishes four areas on campus
where such speech can take place. Butler Plaza is not one of them.
"This policy creates an unconstitutional
'heckler's veto' on protected expression," the states. "The policy vests
unfettered discretion in the defendants to restrict constitutionally protected
What remains unclear is why UH administration
allowed the exhibit on Butler Plaza last March but denied it in the fall.
The University responded in a statement
by saying it had yet to see the paperwork, but that it was "important to
keep in mind that a university is a place where lively discussion and debate
on all issues is encouraged. While doing that, however, we often have to
balance the core campus activities classes and research with
discourse on public issue."
It added that it was "ready to continue
to discuss ... 'free speech zone' alternative sites."
The Daily Cougar reported in March
2001 on pictures in the exhibit, including a comparison between the size
of an arm and hand from an aborted 10-week-old fetus and that of a dime.
Another picture shows the torso and legs of an aborted 12-week-old fetus
held in a gloved hand.
Several UH students expressed their
shock at seeing the exhibit; one said it was the first time she had seen
pictures of aborted fetuses.
The exhibit has transportation and
set-up costs that would be wasted if it wasn't out in the open, Tullos
said. Pro-Life Cougars worked hard to bring the display, she said.
Commenting on the group's plans
if UH decides to go to court, Tullos said, "We have people willing to continue
after I graduate."
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