A public university in Pennsylvania lifted restrictions on what students may write in chalk on campus walkways after an anti-abortion group complained some of its messages were erased by the school.
In March, a chapter of Students for Life of America, an anti-abortion group based in Virginia, complained after chalk messages that read “Stop abortion” and “Life is sacred” were cleaned from sidewalks at Kutztown University in Kutztown, a school of about 9,000 roughly 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
The school’s “posting and chalking guidelines” had included prohibitions on messages “infringing upon the rights of others” and “endangering the health or safety of the University community,” among other restrictions.
Days later, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group that represents Students for Life of America, said erasing the messages violated students’ First Amendment rights. In a letter, the Alliance asked the school to condemn the erasure and change guidelines on chalking “to remove all content- and viewpoint-based restrictions” and “to protect anonymous speech.”
After a review of its policies, Kutztown said in a statement Monday that school policy was changed to “better reflect our support of free speech,” with language about the content of messages removed.
“The university supports free speech, including through our posting and chalking policy,” the statement said. “The incident in March involving a right-to-life group was simply a misunderstanding as the messages were erased during campus cleaning. When the university administration became aware of the situation, the group was immediately informed that it has every right to chalk its messages on our campus.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which often defends the free speech rights of conservative students and recently defended anti-abortion protesters at a Pennsylvania high school berated by an assistant principal, praised the change.
“The only permit a student needs to speak freely on campus is the First Amendment,” said Casey Mattox, director of the Alliance’s Center for Academic Freedom. “To have a vibrant democracy, we have to make sure next generation is engaging with views they disagree with, not shutting them down.”
Students for Life of America is involved with other disputes about chalkings, funding and the right to assemble at four other schools from New York to California.
“Too frequently we see that public colleges and universities feel they can engage in censorship of a student group just because officials don’t agree with the viewpoint of those students,” Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins said in a statement. “Playing favorites while stifling free speech is, sadly, an all-too-common response of abortion advocates who prefer to silence opposition rather than have a free exchange of ideas.”