A lawsuit against a university accused of letting abortion promoters regulate the speech of pro-life protesters on its public campus will advance, a federal judge ruled.
State University of New York-Buffalo officials “grossly breached” the U.S. Constitution, charged Robert Muise, senior counsel for the American Freedom Law Center, which is arguing the case on behalf of the pro-lifers.
“Government officials have an affirmative duty to protect a private citizen’s right to peacefully engage in free speech, particularly when he or she is doing so pursuant to a permit,” he said.
Muise added that “while the judge’s report and recommendation is a first round victory, we are confident that we can prove the factual allegations in the lawsuit to ensure an ultimate and final victory.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott found that the civil rights lawsuit filed by the AFLC against several university officials should not be dismissed as the university requested.
While the school reluctantly allowed a pro-life display on campus, it also allegedly permitted “an unruly mob of protesters to purposely disrupt” the “peaceful-anti-abortion demonstration.”
The case was brought by AFLC on behalf of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform Inc. and several students of the local Students for Life program who worked to bring the Genocide Awareness Project to the Buffalo campus.
That’s a traveling photo mural that compares abortion to historically recognized forms of genocide, such as the Holocaust.
The legal team explained the student group followed school procedures to reserve a prime location just outside of the student union for the pro-life display.
“The request was initially met with resistance from university officials. However, the organizers pointed out that this location had been reserved in the past for student speech activity; therefore, to deny access to this forum for the anti-abortion display would violate the First Amendment,” AFLC explained.
When the time for the display arrived, “university officials permitted protesters to purposely block the graphic, anti-abortion images.”
“At times, the student protesters would use umbrellas and bed sheets to accomplish their task. When the organizers of the event requested assistance from the university police, including its chief of police, they refused, thus prompting this lawsuit.”
The judge found that the issue that needed to be resolve was whether the university’s allowance of the disruptions “equated to a denial of the use of the reserved area, since their messages was obstructed as much as if defendants had forbidden the GAP exhibit outright.”
He wrote: “By the end of the GAP exhibit … one group successfully expressed its speech to the detriment of the other group’s speech, consistent with defendants’ reluctance all along to let the GAP exhibit happen,” which would violate the Equal Protection Clause.
AFLC senior counsel David Yerushalmi said that instead of “fostering the free exchange of ideas in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ that is a university campus, SUNY-Buffalo officials legitimized and encouraged its students to respond to political speech they don’t like with censorship and the denial of free speech.”
“This is very much the tactic of Alinskyite progressives, who would rather violate the Constitution by denying speech that is contrary to the established ‘liberal orthodoxy,’” he said.
The case seeks a permanent order that prevents school officials from allowing protesters to disrupt and silence future anti-abortion speech activities on campus.
The images warning against abortion were blocked by the pro-abortion protesters with bed sheets and signs, the judge found.
He said that when the pro-life protesters complained, campus police refused to take any action.
“A university police officer told Plaintiff Ramsey that the officers were under orders not to stop the protesters’ disruptive conduct,” the judge quoted from testimony.
The pro-life protesters, the judge noted, argue that the university “knowingly allowed counter-protesters to approach the GAP exhibit as closely as the barricades would permit and to envelope the GAP exhibit with signs, blankets, umbrellas, and their own bodies.”
The photographs, the judge said, “seem to indicate that the GAP exhibit was invisible from at least some angles and distances.”
The protesters, therefore argued, he said “that what defendants did or allowed equated to a denial of the use of the reserved area, since their message was obstructed as much as if defendants had forbidden the GAP exhibit outright.”