- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

The student government association at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis has reversed two previous votes and decided to recognize a student pro-life group.

The 27-6 vote Monday by the Student Bar Association to recognize Law Students Pro-Life came as a surprise to leaders of the anti-abortion group, since most SBA members had spoken against accepting the group at a special meeting last Thursday. Four SBA members abstained in Monday's vote.

The vote to recognize LSPL followed two hours of contentious debate. A number of organizations both inside and outside the law school including a campus free-speech group, the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Inc. (FIRE) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri had called on the SBA to recognize Law Students Pro-Life so it would be eligible to receive funding and use campus facilities.

FIRE even waged a nationwide publicity campaign to draw attention to the situation at the Washington University law school. FIRE criticized the chancellor of Washington University and law school officials for failing to overrule the SBA's prior rejections of LSPL.

"We are relieved and gratified that pro-life students at Washington University now enjoy the same rights as all other students," said Charles Kors, president of FIRE.

"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," he said.

On Friday, FIRE and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri sent an open letter to the SBA, asking the governing group to "reaffirm their commitment to tolerance, openness, and pluralism."

After the SBA meeting Thursday, where most members who spoke voiced objection to recognizing LSPL, FIRE began circulating a national petition on behalf of Washington University LSPL.

"In just 48 hours, more than 200 professors, law students, undergraduates, and private citizens from around the country signed the petition, which called on the SBA and the administration to preserve 'freedom of conscience, freedom of association, and freedom of speech' by recognizing LSPL," FIRE said in a statement.

"A great university does not impose a dreary uniformity of beliefs," the petition said.

Some credit for the SBA's about-face must go to Joel Seligman, law school dean, who after receiving numerous calls and e-mails about LSPL's plight instructed the SBA to hold a special session to discuss the recognition of LSPL.

Mr. Seligman, in a telephone interview, said he had come to the conclusion LSPL should be recognized.

In talking with an SBA official, Mr. Seligman said he was told the group was concerned that LSPL had not met a requirement for sending out sufficient e-mails announcing it was seeking recognition by the university.

However, in a Sept. 9 letter of rejection to the LSPL, the SBA said the "catching issue" was the "narrowness of your group's interests and goals."

The SBA said it felt LSPL "was not touching on all possible pro-life issues," because it did not have an "anti-death penalty" position in its constitution.

Instead, LSPL advocates "pro-life principles as applied to abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide." 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.

Greg Lukianoff, legal director of FIRE, said the SBA's earlier refusals to recognize the pro-life law group marked the first time he had ever seen a student government association make such a decision on the basis of the "content" of a group's beliefs.


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