Kutztown University revises chalking policy after complaints of pro-life messages scrubbed off sidewalks

Kutztown University recently revised its policy regarding chalk messages on sidewalks on its campus after complaints that pro-life messages were scrubbed off sidewalks.

According to a release from the Alliance Defending Freedom, the chalking policy was changed after the Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter in March on behalf of the campus chapter of Students for Life.

“University officials had scrubbed from the campus’s sidewalks pro-life messages that student members of the group had chalked even though the school permitted other groups to chalk,” writes the Alliance in the release. “The students wrote the life-affirming messages onto various sidewalks and other uncovered walkways as part of National Pro-Life Chalk Day but later learned that university officials used a scrub brush to wash the messages away, saying they were ‘just following orders.’ When students replaced the messages, officials scrubbed some of them away again.”

This spring, KU revised the policy.

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“The university made revisions to the posting and chalking policy this spring to better reflect our support of free speech,” said Matt Santos, Director of University Relations at KU.

The revised policy states, “Kutztown University facilities are for the primary use by its students, faculty, and staff in their efforts to advance the educational mission of the University. The primary purpose of this policy is to insure the appropriate use of space available and to maintain an aesthetically pleasing campus environment, thereby balancing the need for and rights to effective and orderly advertising and the maintenance of facilities and grounds. No information will be posted that is inconsistent with or in violation of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or federal laws or regulations, or any municipal ordinances. This policy is not intended to infringe upon the First Amendment rights guaranteed by the United States and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Constitutions.” Read full policy at http://app.kutztown.edu/policyregister/policy.aspx?policy=STU-018.

Santos said, “The university supports free speech, including through our posting and chalking policy. The incident in March involving a right-to-life group was simply a misunderstanding as the messages were erased during campus cleaning. When the university administration became aware of the situation, the group was immediately informed that it has every right to chalk its messages on our campus.”

In the Alliance release, ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham said, “No public university can silence student speech simply because officials don’t like what the students are saying. The original chalking policy only permitted messages the university agrees with, but the revised policy eliminates that unconstitutional restriction and allows all views to be expressed. We commend Kutztown University officials for revising their policy to respect freedom of speech for all students.”

In the Alliance release, DF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom said, “Under the initial guidelines, the university could have censored a huge number of messages that officials didn’t find palatable, and that’s what happened with Students for Life. The new policy ensures that won’t happen again to anyone. It’s vitally important that public university officials everywhere model the First Amendment for college students who will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, teachers, and voters rather than communicate to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter. We hope other universities will follow Kutztown University’s example in rectifying bad policies that are inconsistent with the ‘marketplace of ideas’ that a university is supposed to be.”

“Too frequently we see that public colleges and universities feel they can engage in censorship of a student group just because officials don’t agree with the viewpoint of those students,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins in the Alliance release. “Playing favorites while stifling free speech is, sadly, an all-too-common response of abortion advocates who prefer to silence opposition rather than have a free exchange of ideas. We are very pleased that Kutztown University Students for Life will be able to share their message freely just as other students do.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith. ADF represents or has represented Students for Life chapters in five recent legal matters across the country.

About the Author

Lisa Mitchell

Lisa Mitchell is the editor of The Kutztown Patriot and Managing Editor of Berks-Mont Newspapers. Reach the author at lmitchell@berksmontnews.com or follow Lisa on Twitter: @kutztownpatriot.