National Campus Life Network > Blog > Campus Pro-Life

The ‘B’ word: Does being pro-life make us bigots?

By Rebecca Richmond, Executive Director

“You’re a religious bigot!”

The accusation caught me by surprise.  I was with the University of Toronto Students for Life at their abortion protest and the pro-choicers had mobilized a counter protest. (see yesterday’s blog post for more details) The man in front of me was in his late 30s or maybe even in his 40s, with a Planned Parenthood t-shirt, a handful of pamphlets called “10 LIES that ANTI CHOICE groups are telling you about abortion,” and a bag of pro-choice buttons.

I wish I had the conversation – if I can call it that – on tape, because it was an interesting one.

“What does ‘choice’ mean?” I had asked.  “Shouldn’t our choices be limited if they result in the death of an innocent human being?”

And then came the ‘B word’.

“But you’re pre-judging me,” I protested, “I haven’t mentioned religion* at all.  Why are you assuming all these things before you even listen to what you have to say?”

But the “conversation” was over apparently, and he walked away from me.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of a bigot is:

“a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance”

These are serious allegations and since I was not given an opportunity to respond to them at the protest, I would now like to clear my name.

Yes, I am devoted to the pro-life position.  However:

  • Although I was raised by pro-life parents, I did my own research to form my opinion.  You see, my parents and my teachers always encouraged me to conduct research when forming an opinion.  So I read articles and books.  I investigated fetal development and considered pictures of abortions.  And I thought carefully.
  • I have not shied away from dissenting opinions and sources of information.  For example, I attempted to speak with the pro-choicers at the protest.  In fact, I gladly speak to any pro-choicer who is interested in discussing abortion.  (Please note that when I say “I will speak”, this includes also listening to whomever I’m speaking with.)  I took feminist theory classes in university.  I read pro-choice blogs and articles regularly.

No, I do not treat “members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.”  Nor do I treat pro-choicers and/or men and women who have had or been involved with an abortion with hatred and intolerance.  Trying to have dialogue is not hatred nor is it intolerance.  Telling women they deserve better than abortion is not hatred nor is it intolerance.

So no, I am not a bigot.  And please do me the courtesy of listening before you label me as such.



*Interestingly, the only person I heard mention religion was one pro-choice woman who had the microphone.  She told us she was Catholic and that the Bible says “do not judge.”  One pro-life student turned to me and remarked, “Doesn’t the Bible also say something along the lines of ‘thou shalt not murder’?”  And if she’s going to bring up judging, perhaps she and her friends should take note of that and not call us names without first listening to what we have to say.

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Imagine listening to this all day…

By Rebecca Richmond, Executive Director

I’m not very familiar with the campus at the University of Toronto, but I had no trouble finding what I was looking for yesterday.  I don’t think anyone within a 2 block radius could have missed the ruckus that was the street corner in front of the library at the U of T.

University of Toronto Students for Life were there, peacefully holding signs, handing out pamphlets on the pro-life position, engaging people in dialogue on the issue of abortion.









Pro-choicers were there too.  With large banners they tried to block the pro-life signs.  They handed out brochures entitled “10 LIES that ANTI CHOICE groups are telling you about abortion.”  They called the pro-lifers names.  And, with a megaphone, they chanted from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  I’m quite familiar with their chants and am always surprised by the fact that, despite decades and decades of chanting, they still resort to the same old ‘classics’.

“NOT THE CHURCH, NOT THE STATE.  WOMEN MUST DECIDE THEIR FATE,” they yelled, making it hard to hear above the din.  If they really believed that women should decide their fate, they shouldn’t have a problem with women discussing the issue.  Nor should they have a problem with the many female pro-life students making their views on abortion known.

“GET YOUR ROSARIES OFF OUR OVARIES!”  they yelled, apparently not noticing that the club is non-religious, that the club members never appealed to religion, and that there wasn’t a rosary in sight.

“HEY HEY MISTA MISTA!  GET YOUR LAWS OFF MY SISTA!”  they chanted.  One pro-life student turned to me and posed an apt question: “What laws are they talking about?  Last time I checked, Canada had no abortion laws.”

Sadly most of the pro-choicers refused to talk with the students about abortion.  “I’m not talking to you about this!” was heard over and over again.  And when they barged into conversations between pro-lifers and students passing by, the pro-choicers made unfounded allegations (apparently we’re in league with firebombing an abortion clinic?!) and refused to listen to anything the pro-life students had to say.

Fortunately, many other students were willing to talk, and had good discussions with the club members on the issue of abortion. Many weren’t interested in talking or were off to a class, but walked away holding a brochure which outlines and defends the pro-life position on abortion.  Countless others had to at least consider the issue, as they walked past.

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter how loud the opposition is.  Because    at the end of the day, you can’t drown out the truth.

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Universities fail to uphold freedom of expression

Below in an article by John Carpay, taken from Pages 5 and 7 of The Lawyers Weekly article, 29 October 2010.


The arrest of five pro-life students at Carleton on October 4, 2010 is a repudiation of the university’s mission is to pursue truth, which necessarily requires vigorous debate and uncensored speech.  Yet students Ruth Lobo, James Shaw, Nicholas McLeod, Zuza Kurzawa and Craig Stewart were handcuffed and driven off in paddy-wagons while attempting to set up their pro-life display on a prominent place on Carleton’s campus, in an area where numerous other student groups have been allowed to express their views freely.

Carleton asserts that “the students were in no way denied the opportunity to express their views or to mount their exhibit.”  But Carleton expressly refused to allow the pro-lifers to use the same well-travelled location on campus (Tory Quad) which other Carleton students are allowed to use to express their views.  This past August, Carleton official David Sterritt told pro-life students that they could not set up their display outdoors because “the Genocide Awareness Project uses promotional materials which are disturbing and offensive to some.”  Carleton offered the pro-lifers an inconspicuous indoor space (Porter Hall) which has no walk-through traffic.

Would Carleton deny a prominent place on campus to gay or Muslim students, just because some people might find their speech offensive?  If other groups wanted to use disturbing photos to expose the injustice of spousal assault, genocide in Darfur, cruelty to animals, or impaired driving, would Carleton limit those groups to an out-of-the-way place?

The Carleton pro-life students could have accepted the university’s discriminatory offer to allow them to set up their display where few would see it.  But like Rosa Parks rejecting a second-class bus ride, these students defied the university’s attempt to appoint itself the arbiter of which views are acceptable enough to be proclaimed openly, and which views can only be expressed in a back room.  As one of the arrested students, Nicholas McLeod, explained it: “The point of a protest is for people to see it.  Limiting an exhibit to an inside room is like telling Martin Luther King that he couldn’t march through white neighbourhoods.”

Like Carleton, the University of Calgary has also attempted to censor pro-life speech on campus while proclaiming that “everyone must obey the rules.”  In 2006 and 2007, the Genocide Awareness Project was displayed on campus for eight days.  The U of C posted its own signs nearby, proclaiming the exhibit was protected by the Charter.  The exhibit generated discussion and debate on campus, without problems or incidents. But in 2008, the U of C started demanding that the students’ signs be turned inwards, such that no person walking by can see the signs.

The “law and order” claims of Carleton and the U of C are fundamentally dishonest because the rules are not being applied equally to all groups.  Arbitrarily denying one group an outdoor place, or ordering a group to hide its signs from view, are forms of censorship and viewpoint discrimination.  Claiming that pro-life groups at Carleton and the U of C enjoy free speech is like claiming that Blacks in the segregated South could attend school, and ride on the bus.  The claim is disingenuous because it’s true only on a very superficial level, while masking the injustice of blatant discrimination.

(Page 7 continuation of The Lawyers Weekly article)

At its core, the right to free expression is a right to offend other people.  Anyone in any country, no matter how oppressive its regime, can say anything they wish so long as it doesn’t offend anyone.  This was true of the old Soviet Union and is true today of China and Iran.  Indeed, these countries will insist that their citizens are completely free to express themselves, provided they don’t say offensive things.  But a truly free society – which Canada purports to be –  is one where people sometimes have to hear and see the things they hate.  For the U of C and Carleton to restrict free speech arbitrarily because some unnamed person or persons might be “offended” or “disturbed” is to place subjective feelings ahead of Charter-guaranteed constitutional rights.

Further, the right of free speech belongs not only to the speaker, but to potential listeners as well.  While claiming to protect “the rights of others” by suppressing unpopular and controversial speech, the U of C and Carleton are trampling on the rights of university students to be exposed to diverse voices.

Recently the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench in Pridgen v. University of Calgary (October 13, 2010) rebuked the university for its bullying and censorship tactics.  In 2007, Keith and Steven Pridgen (and other students) used a Facebook page to criticize one of their professors as incompetent.  The U of C found the students guilty of non-academic misconduct, and threatened them with the possibility of expulsion unless they apologized.

When the Pridgen brothers challenged these disciplinary proceedings as violating their Charter rights, the U of C tried to rely on McKinney v. University of Guelph, [1990] 3 SCR 229, which held that the Charter does not apply to a university’s dealings with its own employees, by way of a mandatory retirement policy.  However, the Court in McKinney also held that the Charter could apply to university action that is sufficiently governmental in nature.  Applying Eldridge v. British Columbia, [1997] S.C.R. 624, Justice Jo’Anne Strekaf held that the Charter applies in respect of disciplinary proceedings taken by a university against its own students, pursuant to Alberta’s Post-Secondary Learning Act.  Justice Strekaf held that the U of C is “an agent of the provincial government in providing accessible post-secondary education services to students in Alberta” and is “not a Charter-free zone.”  The Court held that “while the university is free to construct policies dealing with student behaviour which may ultimately impact access to the post-secondary system, the manner in which those policies are interpreted and applied must not offend the rights provided under the Charter.”

The Pridgen decision bodes well for pro-life students at Carleton and the U of C, who have courageously resisted the university’s arbitrary censorship.

John Carpay is a Calgary lawyer.  Among his clients are University of Calgary pro-life students who are resisting the university’s censorship demands.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 29, 2010, issue of The Lawyers Weekly published by LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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NCLN at the International Pro-Life Conference in Ottawa

By Rebecca Richmond, Executive Director


October 28th-30th, I had the privilege of speaking at the International Pro-Life Conference in Ottawa.  The conference, sponsored by Campaign Life Coalition, Life Canada, LifeSiteNews.com, and the International Right to Life Federation, brought together speakers from around the world, including politicians, international pro-life leaders, doctors, authors, media, and yours truly.

As I told my audience during my talk, I felt humbled to speak at the conference, knowing that my audience included many giants in the pro-life movement as well as many people who have been fighting for the lives of the unborn longer than I have been alive.  Their work, and the work of others like them, has been important in paving the way for me to be where I am today.  I closed my talk by drawing attention to the fact that my generation is a generation of survivors; we are here because someone “wanted” us.  And so, on behalf of our peers who didn’t survive, who were slaughtered by abortion, a new generation of pro-life leaders is standing up to continue the fight.

It was a wonderful opportunity to share the work of NCLN with the attendees.  The audience was inspired to hear about the advances being made on university campuses in Canada as well as the perseverance and courage of pro-life students, even when facing adversity.

The Conference was a wonderful opportunity for me to meet other pro-life leaders.  I also had the pleasure of meeting a few university students who are involved in campus pro-life groups, or are planning to get involved.

I congratulate the hosts and sponsors of this conference and look forward to future conferences.

(Photo by Campaign Life Coalition Youth.)

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Watch NCLN and pro-life students on TV

On Thursday October 21st, the Michael Coren Show discussed the arrests of pro-life students at Carleton University as well as the broader issue of discrimination against pro-life students on university campuses.

Appearing on the show was Theresa Gilbert, NCLN President, and Rebecca Richmond, NCLN Executive Director, as well as Ruth Lobo and James Shaw of Carleton Lifeline.  Jose Ruba, of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, and Alana Campbell of the University of Calgary Campus Pro-Life, joined us from the Calgary studio.

The show aired 6 p.m. on the 21st as well as 2 p.m. on Friday the 22nd.  The show can now be viewed online here.

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Charter defends free speech rights, says lawyer

By Rebecca Richmond, Executive Director


Today in the Calgary Herald, a column appears concerning Pridgen v. University of the Calgary and its implications.  Written by John Carpay, lawyer for the Campus Pro-Life group at the University of Calgary, the column clearly articulates what this ruling means for pro-life university students.

“This decision bodes well for pro-life students at the U of C and at Carleton University, who have courageously resisted the university’s censorship of their politically incorrect speech.

This court ruling makes it clear that when a university tries to use its legitimate disciplinary proceedings for an illegitimate purpose such as censorship, the Charter protects the students’ right to free speech.”

To read the column, click here.

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Youth Protecting Youth: Carleton University Continues to Bully Students

This post was written for Youth Protecting Youth by ypyinfoofficer. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

Five students, four from Carleton University, and one from Queen’s University, were arrested this week and charged with trespassing after attempting to display a peaceful pro-life protest in a public area on the Carleton university campus. Once again, the truth of the pro-life message is being silenced, this time by the university administration. The press release below comes from the National Campus Life Network, and includes a link to video footage of the arrests. In the past, Youth Protecting Youth has also had issues with freedom of speech and the University of Victoria Students Society, though these issues were not with the university administration and the issues were dealt with this past summer through legal action. Although it is extremely upsetting that students can be arrested for a peaceful protest on a university campus, the greater tragedy is that preborn children are still being killed through the act of abortion everyday, and that this process is still legal in Canada through all 9 months of a pregnancy.

CARLETON UNIVERSITY CONTINUES TO BULLY STUDENTS
Carleton Communicates Misleading Statements to Public

October 6, 2010. Ottawa. One day after Carleton University had Ottawa police arrest 5 students for attempting to peacefully express their views on abortion, a flurry of reports raise questions about whether the students are demanding something not allowed of other students. Footage can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeJkBQn1-r8

University representatives have been reported as stating that no students are allowed to set up displays in the Quad, the area that the pro-life students selected for their signs.

Ruth Lobo, President of Carleton Lifeline, and one of the students arrested, responded: “The university is misleading the public by making it seem as though we are demanding special treatment instead of equal treatment, but that’s not true.”

She explained that their booking request was made several months ago and at no point between then and now did the university communicate to the students, or their lawyer, that the Tory Quad is not bookable space for students.

“Why is the University now claiming the Quad is not bookable space?” asked James Shaw, club Vice President. “We have done extensive research on the policies of the university and see no evidence of their claims that the space isn’t bookable.  In fact, we see the opposite. If, as they’re now claiming, the Quad is not bookable, we should have been told in the summer when we were filling out the application form. That would have been a very simple answer to give, and a much easier one.”

According to the Booking-Space-On-Campus Policy, Tory Quad is listed as bookable space for recognized student groups, which includes Carleton Lifeline. Further, the policy does not place restrictions on display size or content.

According to David Sterritt, who is the Head of Housing and Conference Services at Carleton, the reason for denying the use of the Quad was based on content.  On August 9, 2010, Sterritt wrote the club,

“While we wish to provide your group with an opportunity to express itself freely on this matter, we are also aware that The Genocide Awareness Project uses promotional materials which are disturbing and offensive to some. To this end, we are prepared to offer your group the use of Porter Hall.”

Porter Hall is a closed room on campus that few students pass by and many are even unaware of its location.

“It’s clear by their direct communication to us,” said Lobo, “that this is content-based discrimination.  This censorship should concern everyone, regardless of one’s views on abortion.”

Shaw added, “First the university has us arrested for peacefully exercising our academic freedom and free speech rights.  And now they’re coming up with excuses for their bad behaviour that they never communicated to us.  Shame on Carleton.”

Carleton Lifeline continues to stress that the right to free speech does not exist so much as to maintain mainstream views but more so to protect unpopular opinions like theirs, especially on a university campus.

Lobo said she finds it appalling the university would “mislead the public by making the arrest look like we violated university policy instead of what it really was: that Carleton censors opinions on campus thereby violating their own policy of academic freedom.”

Below is Carleton University’s Human Rights Policies and Procedures- relevant section is Part 1 General Article 4:

http://www2.carleton.ca/equity/ccms/wp-content/ccms-files/human-rights-report-updated-2010.pdf

Below is Carleton University’s Booking-Space-On-Campus Policy- Relevant sections are Section 1 and Appedix A.:

http://www2.carleton.ca/secretariat/ccms/wp-content/ccms-files/Booking-Space-on-Campus-Policy.pdf


Read the comments at the Youth Protecting Youth website.

Youth Protecting Youth: Overheard at UVic

This post was written for Youth Protecting Youth by ypyinfoofficer. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

Who: Students like YOU.

What: Quotes from Club’s Day

Where: Youth Protecting Youth’s information/sign-up booth

Why (you should read this article):

(a) If you are one of the many who claim to be “undecided,” prepare to be reassured. You are not the only one who is unsure of what you think about abortion.

(b) If you are a pro-lifer like me, you may be surprised!

Clubs Day was a major success. YPY gained many new members and plenty of valuable experience dialoguing with students on important life issues. You may, however, be surprised by the responses we received when we posed the questions “When do you think life begins?” and “Have you ever discussed life issues?” to curious students who stopped by our table. The majority of our audience was, as you may have already guessed, undecided on the issue of abortion. Some conversation-opening quotes we wrote down in response to the questions above were “I guess I’m undecided” and “No, I guess I’ve never really talked about it before.”

With Canada’s abortion laws as they currently are (non-existent), it is difficult not to wonder if the reason is that the majority of our country simply does not care about abortion. Upon reading a poster that stated Canada’s current (lack of a) law: “Abortion is legal in Canada through all nine months of pregnancy,” one abortion advocate confidently exclaimed “That’s not true!” and said she would go look it up herself. Other passers-by conveyed similar notions of disbelief.

The real problem, then, is NOT that people do not care. The problem is that people do not know what abortion really is and what it does to a pre-born child. Specific statements we heard confirming this were “I guess I can’t really take a side because I don’t know much about it,” and “I’m not sure really, but I don’t think an egg is a person.”

In response to the last one, we agree with you. A haploid egg is not a person. However, a newly formed zygote, genetically complete, unique, living and growing, is. Life begins at conception. This scientifically accepted fact is seldom socially accepted.

Comments such as the one above spurred discussions that, on some occasions led from “I guess I’ve never thought about it” to “I want to learn more” to “That makes sense” (actual quotes from a lengthy conversation I had with one young man who shall remain unnamed).

So although we may come across those who, upon hearing our message, mumble “Oh, you’re pro-life?!” there are also many students out there who are thirsting for the truth, but who are afraid to go out of their way to receive it.

I want to end on a happy note. I encountered one beautiful girl named Elisa (permission given to mention) who told me how she had become pregnant in her first semester at UVic, and decided to keep her baby. She said that her parents supported her in her decision and reassured her saying that “It’s not a problem, it’s a baby.” She told me it was the best decision she ever made.

I think we can all be inspired by Elisa’s story, knowing there are beautifully strong heroines out there like her, who, despite unexpected circumstances, are bravely and shamelessly choosing life for their children.

In closing, I am glad you were born.

Loving Life,

Lauren


Read the comments at the Youth Protecting Youth website.