Thursday, January 24, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 78


 
 









 

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 Hall.


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 library.
 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 First Amendment.
 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 expression."
 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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