According to The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, when the secretary and treasurer of the Young Americans For Freedom chapter at the college asked for permission “to get some crosses to put in the ground (like we do with the flags for 9/11) to act as a memorial for abortion victims,” the dean of students refused her request.
As Celine Ryan of Campus Reform reports, FIRE stated in its letter to the president of the college that Dean of Students Brad Nason replied to YAF secretary/treasurer Emily Kokot’s August 18 request on August 22, writing:
I’m sorry, Emily, but that is not a program that would be allowed at RMC. The College has no objection to discourse and dialogue about/around the pro-life movement, but we draw the line at public displays of divisive topics. A physical “memorial for abortion victims” falls into that category.
For the record, the President’s Cabinet recently rejected a similar request for an on-campus marketing campaign that would have included what most would interpret as liberal messaging, around the topics of immigrant rights, climate change, science, and racism. We considered that program unnecessarily and inappropriately confrontational.
Ryan noted, “In recent years, Young Americans for Freedom at RMC erected multiple 9/11 memorials involving small American flags lining campus walkways.”
The Blaze noted, “The college, which is a private institution, is affiliated with a variety of churches including the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, and the United Church of Christ. According to its website, the school maintains its affiliations with ‘denominations traditionally committed to the pursuit of knowledge, religious tolerance, and free inquiry and to such values as service, community, and character.’”
Kokot responded on August 22, the same day Nason had sent his rejection. She wrote:
I also just wanted to point out that I have read through the Student Code of Conduct many times and it states that RMC supports students challenging each other to develop intellectually and ethically. It additionally states that RMC encourages students to consider and seek to understand different ideas and points of view. These statements are partially upheld in terms of allowing tabling and everything else you previously mentioned; however, they are not being fully upheld in terms of allowing all forms of free speech.
That prompted a reply from Nason on August 24: “If we allow a public display, we have effectively eliminated every student’s ability to choose to engage or not engage with that issue. The pro-life/pro-choice debate is incredibly divisive and in the College [sic] view, a public display is confrontational. We believe the College community has a right to choose to either engage in a program or not.” He added, “Secondarily, allowing public displays of issues implies direct or tacit endorsement of that particular issue by the college … We believe that divisive tactics such as the “Pro-life/Choice debate require open and thoughtful discussion. Confrontational displays tend to retard rather than foster thoughtful discourse.”
According to FIRE, on September 23, Nason told Kokot that the YAF chapter could not display posters saying, “Unborn Lives Matter.” Kokot told FIRE that she had been told flyers would be permitted if they included YAF meeting times so dialogue could be initiated. She said the meeting times were indeed included, but the posters were rejected.
Kokot contacted FIRE, which subsequently wrote its letter on November 4, within which it wrote:
Assuming that RMC does intend to protect the free expression of its students — as it promises — it must recognize that the proposed cross display falls squarely within that protection. Even if others were to find the display offensive or divisive, this possibility is not a basis on which an institution committed to freedom of expression may rely to justify suppression of speech.
Regarding the poster controversy, FIRE added, “If students are encouraged to ‘choose’ to engage in the topic, but cannot raise the topic in a posting to announce their choice, then precisely how, where, and when do the ‘open and thoughtful discussions’ take place?”