CENSORSHIP: News Weekly
Student union bans pro-life activities
, June 7, 2008
Free speech has been curbed at the University of Queensland.The student union at the University of Queensland has banned the Newman Society from conducting pro-life activities on campus.
The Newman Society is the Catholic student club at the university.
During April, the society conducted a number of activities on campus intended to inform women faced with the problem of unplanned pregnancy of their options.
The Newman Society first held a forum to discuss pregnancy options with three women, one of whom had had an abortion, another who had had her child adopted, and a third who had kept her child. The student union objected to this.
Subsequently, the society ran a stall distributing literature on the dangers of abortion, and promoting a retreat for women who had suffered from an earlier abortion. Again, the student union objected, with its president Josh Young demanding that the Newman Society desist from presenting a pro-life position.
Mr Young e-mailed the Newman Society to say that its conduct was "clearly deceptive", and was intended to deter women from having abortions.
He added, "All the auxiliary information connect (sic) to these campaigns highlight a pro-life agenda, and I will not entertain the notion that the Newman Society seeks to inform women in a way that is not bias (sic) against abortion." He warned that "further incidents of disregard for union policy may be dealt severely through [the] Clubs and Societies Committee".
Later, the Newman Society ran a stall at which they distributed leaflets showing the development of the foetus before birth, and advertising two pregnancy support groups.
Again, the student union objected, demanding that the stall be closed. The students running the stall complied with the student union's demand.
However, on May 7, the student union's Clubs and Societies Committee met to hear a complaint by the student union president Josh Young.
The committee agreed that the Newman Society had deliberately contravened the union's pro-abortion policy, and failed to seek the approval of the president of the student union for publications which it was issuing to students.
It also decided to put the Newman Society on probation for a period of 12 months, and demanded that all literature it distributed be vetted beforehand by several officers of the student union, including its president.
It refused to make minutes of the meeting which took this decision, saying that the meeting had been held in camera, "due to the sensitive nature of the issues being discussed".Totalitarian
The secretary of the Newman Society, Elise Nally, said the union's actions were totalitarian and anti-free speech: "I'd like to know what laws we've broken. The union is acting like a dictator."
In fact, she added, the campaign was pro-woman and pro-pregnancy. The Newman Society's poster and leaflets did not mention abortion, but featured photographs of an unborn child at various stages of pregnancy.
The issue has caused a storm of controversy at the university and in the media, including in The Australian
Following the threats to the Newman Society, pro-life activists held a vigil at the university.
On an internet blog site, a former student at the University of Queensland said, "As an alumnus of UQ, I am seriously disturbed by this act of blatant hypocrisy by the student union purporting to promote the values of respect (or at least 'tolerance') and freedom. I urge the Newman Society to resist and protest by means of non-violent, non-compliance with this edict."
Another contributor criticised the student union's "disgraceful decision", but asked, "Should we be surprised? It has never really been about freedom and equal rights — it's about eliminating Christianity from the agenda."
The Newman Society has received messages of support from around Australia, and even from as far away as the United States. Interestingly, it was also supported by the university's atheist club, which described the attempt to silence the Newman Society as an attack on free speech.
A poignant letter was also sent to the president of the student union by another former student of the University of Queensland. She wrote, "I am writing from Washington State, in the US. I lived in Queensland, Brisbane and Mt Isa for nearly three years in the 1970s. I have fond memories of my time there.
"I have been made aware of the sad decision of the student union to discipline the Newman Society and to ban pregnancy support information that the Newman Society has to offer to all of the UQ students.
"I am a woman who had an abortion — 38 years ago this past April. I am the mother, therefore, of a dead child.
"If I had seen any literature about support during my pregnancy, I would be the mother of a child that would have been born alive, versus being burned to death by saline solution and then later ripped from my womb.
"In the spirit of free speech, I would think that the student union body would see fit for all information on pregnancy to be not only welcomed, but encouraged. I pray that you will rethink your decision on banning supportive information. After all, isn't that what an institution of higher learning does — educates?"
She concluded, "Give the women of the University of Queensland a genuine choice, Mr Young. Do not deny them the right to have all the information they need to make a good decision regarding the life of the child they carry within them."