Pro-Life Group Wins Free Speech Dispute

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Pro-life students at one Maryland university are celebrating a victory for their message and their constitutional rights.

The University of Maryland-Baltimore County agreed to alter its decision to keep a Rock of Life display out of a popular spot on campus.

Lawyers for the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom filed a suit on behalf of Rock of Life after the university insisted the student group relocate its pro-life displays to less prominent areas of campus.

The ADF believes the incident was a case of religious discrimination.

"Pro-life students at the University of Maryland shouldn't suffer discrimination for their beliefs," ADF Senior Legal Counsel Steven H. Aden said.

The student group had invited the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform to campus to put up several posters titled "Genocide Awareness Project." The pro-life California-based center travels to campuses across the nation displaying graphic images of abortion.

The posters seek to draw comparisons between modern-day abortion and historical occurrences of genocide.

The ADF argued that the group's students were victimized by the school's speech zoning policy. Under the code the university is permitted to dictate where speech events may be located.

But the university maintains that its actions were in no way discriminatory, arguing that it was the size of the posters that posed the problem and not the content.

"Practically speaking, the exhibit was just too big," said Sally L. Swann, an assistant attorney general representing UMBC. "It's purely the size and logistics."

However, Aden pointed out that larger events and other student groups have been allowed the use the space that Rock of Life requested.

"The purpose of the display was substantially thwarted that day," Aden said. "This particular display is designed to provoke discussion with the students who see it."

UMBC has agreed to retool its speech zone policies - specifically regarding when university officials are allowed to ask students to relocate their displays.

"We are encouraged by the university's decision to change its speech policies so that the constitutional rights of its students will be respected." Aden said, "We look forward to making sure the policy changes are actually enacted and that they abide by them."

Both sides will present a joint status report to Judge J. Frederick Motz on September 19.

Rock of Life and ADF plan to take the case on to trial to ensure the university is held legally responsible for changing the unconstitutional language of its policies on student speech.

Sources: ADF, The Daily Record, The Retriever Weekly (UMBC student newspaper)

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