FREE SPEECH II: by Jason CebaloNews Weekly
Uproar at Sydney University over pro-life student group
, June 23, 2012
A major battle for freedom of speech has broken out at the University of Sydney.
In the past few months, a group of students have worked to found LifeChoice Sydney, a non-partisan and non-sectarian pro-life club.
The aims of the club are: 1) to promote the dignity of human life from conception to natural death; 2) to promote discussion around the issues of euthanasia and abortion; and 3) to promote awareness of alternatives to euthanasia and abortion.
Speaking of the founding of the club, the president Rebecca Elias said: “LifeChoice aims to promote the dignity of human life in an open, honest and non-confrontational manner. The fact that we are pro-life means that we respect all human life and, as a club, we aim to conduct our discussions in a respectful spirit.”
The club was approved at a meeting of the university union board, by six votes to five, on the afternoon of Friday, June 1. Within minutes of the board’s vote, Twitter and Facebook exploded with denunciations of the group and discussion of plans to have the board’s decision overturned. By Friday evening a petition to ban LifeChoice was established on the web page of the left-wing activist group GetUp! and already had over 200 signatures.
At a policy forum convened by the union to discuss issues arising from the approval of the club, Phoebe Drake, president of the Student Representative Council, told the meeting that in her opinion the right of a woman to an abortion should be more important than freedom of speech.
Other speakers compared pro-life students to Holocaust-deniers, while another student suggested that, because pro-lifers are a minority in society, they should not have the right to establish a union-approved club, failing to note that the union already has clubs representing far smaller minorities, such as Marxists.
Commenting on the attacks on her club’s right to exist, Rebecca Elias remarked: “LifeChoice is non-confrontational. We only seek to discuss the issues, yet some students are trying to stifle this discussion. University is about diversity; but the message I’m receiving from the actions of some students is that we do not have a right to engage in open dialogue. I find this very worrying.”
The debate surrounding the club has already received considerable media attention, some of it highly biased and inaccurate. For example, the New York-based Huffington Post reported that the club will receive $4,000 of university union money.
While the club is eligible, as all student clubs are, to receive union funding, such funding is generally distributed on the basis of the size of the club; it is virtually certain that the relatively small LifeChoice will not receive anything like the amount reported.
At the forum mentioned above, a motion to ban the club on the basis that it is discriminatory against women was defeated by 36 votes to 34.
The attempts to ban the club, however, are not over. A general meeting of the union has been called for next semester. A proposal has been formulated to amend the university union constitution in a manner which would not only forbid LifeChoice but would ban any club opposed to abortion. This could potentially have serious consequences for the freedom of expression of a large number of existing student clubs.
LifeChoice and other defenders of free speech will continue their campaign to ensure the University of Sydney is a place of free speech and open debate.