Anti-choice activists sue EMU for not funding the installation of a “look at these gory, mangled bits of bloody fetus” photography exhibition on campus

Late last year, I told you about a case that had been brought against Eastern Michigan University by a former student named Julea Ward. Ward, as you may recall, maintained that she had been kicked out of the university’s Counseling program after refusing to work with a gay client, citing religious objections. The court case, which was brought on Ward’s behalf by an Arizona-based group calling itself the Alliance Defending Freedom, was promptly dismissed by a federal judge, but it would seem that the reverberations are still being felt. First, it was Michigan Republicans, pushing legislation that they called the Julea Ward Freedom Of Conscience Act, which would seek to protect those, like Ms. Ward, who withhold health care services from individuals they feel the Lord would find morally repugnant. And, more recently, it would seem that the Alliance Defending Freedom is back in the picture – this time taking EMU to court over their refusal to provide funding to a student group seeking to install an enormous “pro-life” display featuring gory images of dissected human fetuses alongside photos of Nazi concentration camps and lynched African Americans. The following comes from the Detroit Free Press.

…The lawsuit says that the student government should have allocated the roughly $5,000 that Students for Life had requested in February to sponsor the Genocide Awareness Project. The project uses large displays to compare abortion to the Nazis’ mass killing of Jews, the lynching of African Americans, and genocide in Cambodia.

The traveling exhibit visits universities across the U.S. and is run by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, a California group that opposes abortion. The alliance says that the university violated the constitutional rights of members of Students for Life because allocation of student fees for campus events must be politically neutral.

“Universities should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” said David Hacker, attorney with the alliance…

My inclination upon first hearing this was that the group had no real intention of presenting the Genocide Awareness Project on EMU’s campus, and that they were likely just engaged in some high-stakes trolling – encouraging fundamentalist students on campuses across the country to request a visit from their wall of highly-magnified baby gore, only to be told no, triggering a lawsuit which would bring with it free press coverage and the financial contributions which would surely follow. (Not a bad business model.) But, it would seem that the Genocide Awareness Project does actually make it to some campuses. Here, for instance, is a photo from the campus of Eastern Kentucky University.

I’m all for open, honest debate on issues… even contentious issues, like abortion… but I find it difficult to imagine that a group that puts up images of Obama and Hitler flanked by the dissected limbs of fetuses, is really interested in facilitating meaningful dialogue. And, I’m happy to hear that EMU had the good sense not to provide funding that would have brought these folks to Ypsilanti. I will admit, however, that, as a card carrying member of the ACLU and a proponent of free speech, I’m somewhat conflicted with regard to my feelings about this. While, on the one hand, I find the images incredibly distasteful, and counterproductive to meaningful discourse, on the other I recognize the fact that people have a right to champion their beliefs publicly, no matter how misguided I may find them. Unfortunately, in cases like these, I believe the tactics employed blur the line. “At what point,” I ask myself, “do my the rights of the sign-holder end, and the rights of the innocent passer-by begin?” And, I suspect I would be wondering the same thing if we were discussing an anti-war organization that was seeking to further their cause on the EMU campus by forcing innocent bystanders to confront larger-than-life depictions of children killed and dismembered by drone attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. While I agree that people need to be made aware, in that particular instance, of the real human costs associated with our foreign policy decisions, I believe that there are better ways to convey that message in public… At any rate, I’m curious as to what others think.

[note: We had a somewhat similar conversation back in 2006, when an anti-abortion group brought their massive, bloody “partial-birth abortion” signs to Michigan Avenue.]

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  1. Posted March 21, 2013 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Those people come to the University of Michigan every year and get ignored.

  2. Topher
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 4:27 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand the argument that the school should have given them money. Perhaps I could understand a lawsuit if the school didn’t give a space or allow for a common space to be used (U of M, back in 2005/6 allowed for an anti-abortion campaign with similar pictures on The Diag).

    To say that the university should have given the organization money is like having students sue a school because they didn’t get the scholarship they wanted.

  3. EOS
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    C’mon – tell the truth. EMU paid a financial settlement to Julea Ward as the case was working its way through the courts. The District Court was overturned in appeal.

    Student government collects fees for activities from the students at registration and distributes them to student groups on campus for a variety of functions. It is illegal to deny funding to certain groups because the students might disagree with the message of that group. The ADF is not representing the Genocide Awareness Project, but a group of Pro-Life students who are being denied their free speech rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against viewpoint discrimination.

    Those who advocate for abortion do not want visual reminders of what it actually entails. The gory images of dissected fetuses are no where near as offensive as the reality of millions of innocent lives that are destroyed in this manner. If only the pro-abortion side were as offended by the practice as much as they are offended by pictures of the dead babies.

  4. anonymous
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Is Abortion Photography a thing, like Boudoir Photography?

  5. roots
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Yes, I remember these people at UofM. I think it’s absurd that they would expect funding for what they do.

  6. EOS
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    U of M provided the funding for the exhibit on their campus, just like they provide the funding for homosexual advocates to come and speak, and for the “Take Back the Night” and “Vagina Monologues” events of the feminists. A view doesn’t have to be accepted by everyone in order for it to be given funding in order to be heard. It’s called tolerance.

  7. Posted March 22, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    I agree with EOS that they shouldn’t be approving or denying requests based on the political or ideological views espoused by the applicant organization. However, it seems that in this case the denial may have less to do with the views espoused than in the manner in which they would be presented. The statement by the ADF points out that “the government may not regulate speech based on policies that permit arbitrary, discriminatory, and overzealous enforcement”, but fails to consider that the government is permitted to make reasonable restrictions with regard to time, place, and manner of speech.

    Further, there’s a marked difference between attempting to prohibit speech (which does not seem to be the case here — I doubt the student government has the authority to permit or prohibit such a display) and declining to fund that speech, although the issue of funding coming from mandatory student fees does blur the line a bit. But ADF is also engaged in obfuscation, as they ascribe the decision not to fund to “EMU officials” and “university officials”, never mentioning that the funding decision was student-made.

  8. Posted March 22, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    EOS compares this to funding speeches, but that isn’t really an apples-to-apples comparison, unless the funded speaker is in a public space with a megaphone.

    If there’s a speaker I don’t like, or whose views offend me, it’s easy to avoid them: just don’t go into the room in which they’re speaking. But this puts the message right in the face of passers-by, willing or unwilling. Again, it’s those allowable restrictions. For example, are “homosexual advocates” allowed to put up 12-foot tall signs along campus sidewalks showing male-male anal sex? Probably not.

  9. Edward
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    And, while we’re at it, let’s give the Nazis $5,000 to come to Eastern to promote their ideas.

  10. EOS
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    It’s not apples to oranges either. Even the ACLU considers signs to be included under the jurisdiction of free speech.

    If all large posters were prohibited on campus for a safety purposes or another reason, then perhaps the student group is justified in their prohibition of these posters. It is still legal in this country to voice opposition to abortion. There are existing state and federal laws that regulate pornography.

    Yes Edward,

    The Nazis, the KKK, Militia groups, religious fanatics, etc., … The real test of free speech is the willingness to allow views that only a minority might share.

  11. Stupid Hick
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    For the first time ever I agree with EOS.

  12. Mr. X
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I just like that EOS equated “The Nazis, the KKK, Militia groups”. That, I think, is a step forward for him.

  13. Eel
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Is that really your vision for civil society, EOS? Do you want our university’s paying Nazis to set up shop on their laws, advocating for death camps? Is that the vision of a libertarian paradise that motivates you through life?

  14. EOS
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    What is the alternative Eel? That government dictates the parameters of acceptable thought?

  15. Megan
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Comparing abortion to Hitler’s extermination of 6 million Jews??? If everyone Hitler killed existed INSIDE of his own body, then the two can be compared. Else it’s utter crap.

  16. EOS
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    So in your mind, the 50 million plus killed in the womb in the US since Roe v. Wade can’t be compared to the extermination of 6 million Jews based on their location at death?

  17. Demetrius
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    1. EMU student elect representatives to serve on their “student government.”
    2.) This group has the authority to spend a portion of student fees to fund various activities, and the responsibility to decide which activities to support — or not.
    3.) The group voted to deny this particular request.
    4.) An outside group is unhappy that EMU students’ elected representatives (not EMU) voted not to fund their exhibit.

    I fail to see how anyone’s free-speech rights are being denied, nor how an outside group has standing to challenge a decision made my EMU students’ elected representatives.

  18. EOS
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Try to imagine how you would feel if the EMU students’ representatives voted to not allow a Black man to speak, or a gay man, or a socialist, etc…

  19. Michelle Shocked
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    EOS, you’re a saint.

  20. Eel
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Try to imagine how you would feel if the EMU students’ representatives voted to not allow a Black man to speak, or a gay man, or a socialist, etc…

    But that’s not what Mark was saying. He wasn’t saying that they shouldn’t be allowed to speak. He was saying that they shouldn’t be paid to hold up signs that infringe upon the rights of others, who are just trying to go about their business. There are pro-life nuts ranting on campus all the time. The issue is when they pick up a hugely magnified photo of a fetus in a garbage can (which happened, by the way, to be shot decades ago). If a gay man was on campus making people look at gory photos of straight men being eaten by lions, I suspect that Mark wouldn’t like that either.

  21. js
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Any university can place “time, place and manner” restrictions on free speech. Despite EOS liking to jerk it to fetus porn, this is a pretty easy thing to dismiss. The student org. poster and flyer policy already requires that the images comport with “generally accepted standards of good taste.” If they had funded graphic images of the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan, there might be a content complaint, but since I worked on those campaigns way back in the day, I know they didn’t.

    Fake controversy with terrible analogies from EOS.

  22. Elliott
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I want $5,000 to stand outside the EMU dorms and advocate for the construction of an abortionplex.,20476/

  23. Posted March 22, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I vote we make giant graphic images of penile reconstruction surgeries so that people know how bloody and terrible it really is.

  24. Mr. X
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry to hear that your procedure did not go well, Peter.

  25. Michelle Shocked
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    What if we applied for funding for a grant that would allow us to demonstrate, via large lovely photographs and illustrations installed on a college campus, how fucking an ass is arguably more pleasurable than fucking a vagina, not to mention cheaper for taxpayers.

  26. koosh
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    i’ll give you the more pleasurable part, but you’re a liar if you think it’s cheaper.

  27. XXX
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Cheaper for taxpayers because ain’t no babies come out the ass.

  28. Posted March 22, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    EOS says: So in your mind, the 50 million plus killed in the womb in the US since Roe v. Wade can’t be compared to the extermination of 6 million Jews based on their location at death?

    I say: Actually, yes. My religion (which is the same one that Hitler wanted to wipe off the face of the earth) tells me that you are alive and that your soul arrives. when you take your first breath outside the womb. So to my mind, that thing in the womb isn’t alive and therefore you can’t kill it.

    Given that something like 1/3 of all pregnancies spontaneously abort anyway, I kind of like this view.

  29. Mr. X
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Alliance Defending Freedom
    15100 N. 90th Street
    Scottsdale, AZ 85260

    I was hoping that there would be a college campus right across the street, but, unfortunately, that’s not the case. Scottsdale Community College, however, isn’t too far away. And I’d love to propose to them that they allow us to put up our “You Too Can Choose To Be Gay” exhibition. (As I’m envisioning it, all of the images of male on male penetrative sex would be tastefully done, and on the inside of the structure.)

  30. anonymous
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Completely unrelated to anything, EOS would be on his back within an instant of meeting this man.

  31. anonymous
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    And your religion is wrong, Patti. Life begins at conception. Just ask the people of North Dakota.

  32. Posted March 22, 2013 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    In North Dakota, if the mother’s body rejects the fetus, is she guilty of manslaughter?

  33. Posted March 23, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Anonymous–shit. 3000 years of beautiful tradition from Moses to Sandy Koufax…DOWN THE MF’ING DRAIN!!! Thanks a lot North fucking Dakota.

  34. Interrobang
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I’d be more sympathetic to the forced-birthers’ point of view if their little propaganda sideshow was actually accurate about what the aftermath of an abortion looks like, namely a very heavy menstrual period. But like all Liars For Jesus, they are ideologically incapable of facing actual facts or telling the truth.

  35. Meta
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    I’m reminded of the candidate for sheriff in New Hampshire who said that he’d be willing to use deadly force to keep a pregnant woman from terminating her pregnancy.

    Fortunately, he lost.

  36. Posted March 23, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting to me that the forced-birthers don’t move out into other issues. If they were really serious about protecting life, they would.

    Graphic displays of domestic violence, rape, warfare, slavery and environmental exploitation would all be par for the course.

    Yet, on these issues, which arguably present clear and present dangers to both the living and the unborn, they are silent. So silent as to actually condone the worst of humanity through inaction.

    Pathetic, at best.

  37. Robert
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    As much as I am disturbed by EOS’s strange wranglings with reality at times, I don’t think anything he has ever said has disturbed me as much as what TeacherPatti just did. Reading that sent a chill down my spine.

  38. Meta
    Posted March 29, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Interesting video compilation of anti-abortion protesters being asked what should happen to those women who have abortions if the procedure becomes illegal.

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