Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom filed a lawsuit Monday against Community Colleges of Spokane and Spokane Falls Community College officials for allegedly violating the constitutional rights of pro-life students.
Earlier this year SFCC officials threatened Beth Sheeran and members of a Christian student group with disciplinary measures, including expulsion, if they chose to hold a pro-life event on campus to share information with other students because the message was "discriminatory" and did not include a pro-abortion viewpoint.
SFCC Director of Student Funded Programs Heather McKenzie rejected Sheeran’s request to hold a pro-life event on campus on January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The event involved flier distribution and materials posted in an announcement display case in the student center. McKenzie said college policy prohibits one-sided events and expressive displays on campus and that the pro-life display would not be allowed because it did not include any pro-abortion viewpoints.
As a member of SFCC’s "Stop the Hate" committee, McKenzie told Sheeran that her "biased" event fell under the program’s jurisdiction because of its "discriminatory" pro-life message and because someone might construe statistics cited in their literature – breaking down abortions by ethnic group – as hate.
SFCC Associate Dean of Student Services and "Stop the Hate" committee chair Gregory Roberts eventually told Sheeran that the group could hold the event if its members voted in favor of it. However, after they did, Roberts, McKenzie, and the group’s faculty advisor, Stormy Kurtz, allegedly went to a club meeting and intimidated the students into not holding the event. Kurtz told the students that their flier was "offensive" and that their event violated the district’s "Stop the Hate" policy and Washington law, and the students would face expulsion if they "offended" anyone. Out of fear of disciplinary action, Sheeran and the fellowship never held the event.
"Christian students shouldn’t be threatened, silenced, and discriminated against for attempting to share their beliefs on public college campuses," said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Heather Gebelin Hacker. "But this school goes beyond censorship to actually try to compel the students to make statements they don’t believe. Such a requirement is nothing short of Orwellian."