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Pro-Life group recognized. (Making A Difference).

Last year, some students at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis formed a pro-life club called Law Students Pro-Life (LSPL). The fledgling club of about 20 members sought recognition as an official campus organization from the Student Bar Association (SBA), the law school's student government. Without such recognition, the new group could not qualify for university funding, student office space, a campus mail address, or listing in the school's admissions brochure. Neither could it advertise its activities on campus bulletin boards.

Last September 9th, by a vote of 27 to 10 (with one abstention), the SBA rejected the LSPL's application for recognition. It was believed to be the first time that the SBA had voted to deny recognition based on the content of a group's beliefs. In a letter sent to LSPL chairman Joel Siverd that day, SBA president Elliott Friedman asserted his belief that the "catching issue" was the "narrowness of your group's interests and goals." He complained that LSPL "was not touching on all possible pro-life issues," since its constitution did not include an "anti-death penalty" provision. Yet as a report on the controversy in the Washington Tunes noted, "In that regard, the group stands with many of the nation's leading pro-life organizations, which do not take a stand on the death penalty."

LSPL reapplied, but the SBA reaffirmed its position on September 23rd without comment. When further informed that university administrators would not overrule the SBA, the pro-life club contacted Freedom for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a Philadelphia-based campus freespeech group.

On September 30th, FIRE wrote to University Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and School of Law Dean Joel Seligman, urging them to intervene on LSPL's behalf and thereby spare the University the embarrassment of a public fight. FIRE also recalled the university's own published statement committing the institution "to the principles of freedom of religion and speech."

When there were no responses to its letters, FIRE initiated a public-exposure campaign urging SBA members to "reaffirm their commitment to tolerance, openness, and pluralism."

As the campaign gathered steam, Dean Seligman had a change of heart and concluded that the LSPL should indeed be recognized, though he reiterated that he would not directly intervene to overrule the student government. Instead, he instructed the SBA to hold a special session to again address the issue. Most SBA members continued to speak out against recognition during the contentious two-hour confab on October 10th. Following the meeting, FIRE began circulating a national petition that, within 48 hours, gathered the signatures of more than 200 professors, law students, undergraduates, and private citizens from around the country. The petition called on the SBA and university administrators to preserve "freedom of conscience, freedom of association, and freedom of speech" by recognizing LSPL.

On October 13th, even the pro-abortion St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized in favor of recognition.

The next day, by a lopsided 27 to 6 vote (with four abstentions), the SBA reversed course and granted LSPL the full campus recognition it had sought. Commenting on the about face, FIRE President Charles Kors told reporters: "We are relieved and gratified that pro-life students at Washington University now enjoy the same rights as all other students. The university and the law school were unable to defend in public what they practiced in private. I wish they had acted, at the beginning, from moral principle, rather than from expedience."
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Author:Lee, Robert W.
Publication:The New American
Date:Jan 13, 2003
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