In recent news, the organization Voice for Life was denied status as a university student organization at Johns Hopkins University. The organization states its principle as respect for life from conception to natural death. This principle sounds very much in keeping with the statement in the Declaration of Independence about the unalienable right to life. If people were surveyed with a question asking if they believe that the Declaration of Independence is correct that human beings have a right to life, it is hard to imagine that even one would say “no.” What could possibly motivate the Student Government Association to deny Voice for Life the right to meet and speak and post signs on the campus of the university?
Two reasons were given during a campus Town Hall the day after the SGA voted:
- Voice for Life is alleged to be in violation of a university policy concerning harassment and the student code of conduct when it engages in sidewalk counseling near a local abortion clinic, and
- Voice for Life’s website includes a link to an “offensive” website, the Center for Bio-ethical Reform, where photos of aborted babies are among the images displayed.
To date, the JHU administration has not spoken to this issue. Readers might legitimately ask if Student Government can possibly be the place where university policy regarding harassment and the code of conduct is enforced. No activities known to be part of the organization’s history fit a dictionary definition of harassment. The conduct promoted by Voice for Life that is prohibited by the Student Code of Conduct is not named. No information was provided in any of the articles available the morning of Wednesday, April 3, 2013, about the wording of this policy.
As to whether the images on the website of the Center for Bio-ethical Reform are “offensive” that judgment would necessarily be subjective absent a policy setting forth any standards. No information available in reports to date specifies what makes the images “offensive.”
The discussion surrounding this decision, including comments in emails circulated among the SGA representatives, is much more informative. Among those emails was a simple statement by a member of the SGA executive council saying, “And this is why we don’t approve groups like Voice for Life.” The statement was followed by a link to an article entitled “Racist Hate Group To Conduct Nighttime Patrols On College Campus.” It might be difficult for most readers to see the connection between advocating for life and advocating white supremacy. Yet this person appeared to see some parallel.
Almost certainly the real problem with Voice for Life is its opposition to abortion. The sidewalk counseling near an abortion clinic is only one expression of that opposition. One SGA member is quoted as saying that pro-life demonstrations make her feel “personally violated, targeted and attacked at a place where we previously felt safe and free to live our lives.” Does it make sense that a person feels her life is threatened by a demonstration in support of the right to life? Can it even be possible that someone feels more threatened by a person who advocates that every human being’s right to life be protected by the culture and the government than by a person who advocates that one person has a right to take another person’s life if that life is deemed inconvenient?
JHU has a right to police its own campus. JHU students can be as exclusive as they like within the boundaries set by the administration. However, the reputation of Johns Hopkins University is not embellished by this action of the Student Government Association. The reputation of the students who make up the Student Government Association is certainly called into question by the fact that on the same day that Voice for Life’s application was rejected, the application of Students for Justice in Palestine was approved, this despite a record of anti-Semitism and disruptions on other campuses. Is anti-Semitism not racism? Is campus disruption preferable in some way to off-campus sidewalk counseling? What are thinking readers to conclude?
A spokesman for Voice for Life has said that the organization is seeking a lawyer to help them press their case further. However, a better use of their time and money might be simply to publicize the situation. Buy ads that tell people that JHU uses its right to privacy to limit the opportunities on campus for like-minded students to associate together in support of the right to life. In times past, stage productions used the phrase “Banned in Boston” as a way to drum up an audience, and the same strategy might work well for Voice for Life.
The organization is not and cannot be suppressed or shut down by the university; it can only be denied the status of a student organization. The SGA has suggested that a new application from Voice for Life that left out the sidewalk counseling might be received and approved. In other words, if Voice for Life stops speaking for the unborn in public, then the organization might be welcome on campus. If Voice for Life wants to speak up for life, it probably should abandon its effort to be recognized as a student organization. Students can belong whether it is a student organization or not. If the price of recognition by SGA is to lose its real message and mission to advocate for the value of human life, then that would be a terrible price to pay. How could they call themselves Voice for Life if they muzzle themselves in order to fit in?
The biggest question for Christians who read about this situation is this: how it is even possible that the views expressed by SGA members make sense to them? What has happened in the culture that results in young adults who perceive advocacy for the life of the unborn as a threat? Do these young adults even believe that human beings do have a right to life?
What about the person who alleged similarities between Voice for Life and a white supremacist group at Towson University? What possible parallels can be found between advocacy for every person’s right to life and advocacy for white people to rule over everyone else? In current political discourse, the accusation of “racism” is the most vicious slur leveled against anyone. It is frequently used in contexts where the relation to ethnic distinctions is distant or completely unverifiable. Did students learn to apply this epithet to every argument just to be sure they themselves will be exempt from the accusation in case the discussion escalates? Are students at the high school level no longer taught that argumentum ad hominem is an argument used by lazy people as a substitute for actually knowing what the discussion is about?
Young students accepted by Johns Hopkins University would be considered above average by most people. JHU is not a local community college meeting in a refurbished warehouse and taught primarily by adjunct faculty. JHU is where select students are supposedly nourished by a select faculty in order to lead others in their chosen professions or life work. If the attitudes expressed by the SGA are typical of the student body at JHU, what does that finding forebode for the leaders in our culture in five years? In ten years? What does it say about the leaders in our culture in the US right now?