Independence Law Center helping to defend free speech, First Amendment freedoms

A Harrisburg-based legal team is helping a PA university chapter of the largest pro-life youth organization in defending against the censoring of their pro-life views.

Kutztown University

A letter was sent on Monday to the president of Kutztown University of Pennsylvania from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and Jeremy Samek, Senior Counsel for Independence Law Center (ILC), after officials there scrubbed chalked pro-life messages from the campus’s sidewalks even though the school permits other groups to write on sidewalks with chalk.

Members of the Students for Life of America chapter at the university wrote life-affirming messages onto various sidewalks and other uncovered walkways on campus as part of the National Pro-Life Chalk Day. They later discovered that university officials ordered their messages to be washed away. When members of the pro-life group replaced the messages, some were washed away again.

“The university setting should be one of the safest places for free speech, just as the womb ought to be one of the safest places for a baby,” says Jeremy Samek, serving as local counsel on this matter.

Kutztown University’s “Posting and Chalking Guidelines” permit chalking “on sidewalks and other uncovered walkways” but then expressly regulate the “content” of student expression by prohibiting, among other things, messages that “advertise activities, events, or groups…incompatible with the University’s Statement on Non-Discrimination.”

As stated in the letter:

“From mandating that the ‘content of the chalking must be consistent’ with its content restrictions to placing those restrictions in a bulleted list under a boldfaced ‘Content’ heading, KUP could not possibly make it more clear that it engages in the very content discrimination that has been prohibited on campus since at least 1981…Based on the fact that you met with our clients and assured them that you would take action, we trust that you…will take the necessary steps to protect the constitutional rights of all your students.”

We are asking the university to avoid the possibility of a lawsuit by issuing a campus-wide statement condemning the scrubbing of Students for Life’s chalked messages. We also ask for a revision to their policy by removing all content- and viewpoint-based restrictions and to protect anonymous speech, and for the staff associated with this censoring to attend a seminar on fundamental First Amendment principles.

The letter gives March 27th as a deadline to hear back from Kutztown University.

Students for Life of America is the nation’s largest pro-life youth organization and currently serves 1,031 groups in college, high schools, and medical schools across the U.S.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

Independence Law Center is a Harrisburg-based pro-bono legal organization dedicated to advancing civil rights. Independence Law Center Attorney Jeremy Samek is serving as local counsel on this matter.