World War II servicemen barely out of high school were buried under crosses as were troops who served in Korea and Vietnam.
But now, one American university says that just seeing crosses can cause “emotional trauma.”
That’s the subject of a new lawsuit by the Alliance Defending Freedom over a demand from Miami University of Ohio that pro-life students post warnings about their display of small crosses in the ground.
“No university official has the authority to censor student speech simply because of how someone might respond to it,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “Like all government officials, public university administrators have an obligation to respect students’ free speech rights.
“The First Amendment secures the freedom of all students to participate in the marketplace of ideas, and it prohibits university officials from imposing trigger warnings that restrict what some students can say to spare the feelings of others.”
The fight erupted over the Students for Life chapter on campus, which since 2015 has periodically displayed a “Cemetery of the Innocents” on campus.
It features small crosses placed in the ground to remember the lives lost to abortion.
But when, a few weeks back, Students for Life President Ellen Wittman emailed the school to set up permission for the display, the school responded with a demand that the student group could put up the display “only if it placed signs around campus warning people about its content.”
Officials told the students their speech would have to be curtailed because they feared the display would produce “emotional trauma” for those who would see it.
Further, officials said the restrictions were an effort to “better protect and manage [students’] emotional reactions.”
Better yet, the school official responded, she should meet with the pro-lifers to figure out “less harmful” ways to express their views.
ADF explained: “This trigger warning requirement arose because the university’s speech codes give officials broad authority to grant or deny a group’s request to conduct an exhibit on campus. To conduct an exhibit, students must seek a permit at least seven business days in advance, explain the message and purpose of their exhibit, and agree to let university officials edit the display as they see fit.”
However, the lawsuit, Students for Life at Miami University of Ohio, Hamilton v. Trustees of Miami University of Ohio, points out that “this sweeping authority allows administrators to deny permits for any reason, including unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, and to control the message students convey by imposing conditions on approving these permits.”
“Today’s university students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, university presidents, and voters,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox. “That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students, and why it should disturb everyone that Miami University of Ohio and many other universities are communicating to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter.”
The lawsuit in federal court in Ohio names as defendants the trustees, Gregory Crawford, the president and a variety of other officials.
“The university claims to encourage free discourse and debate on campus, but if students with to conduct an exhibit on campus, they must first get approval from the office of student activities,” the claim explains. “Throughout the permitting process, the university retains unfettered discretion to impose additional requirements on the students as a condition for approving the exhibit.”
It continues: “In so doing, the university fails to protect students against content and viewpoint discrimination, requires its officials to evaluate the content and viewpoint of student expression, and requires students to waive their right to control the message they convey and their right to speak anonymously through an exhibit.”