Student Group Pressing University of Alabama in Free Speech Debate

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by Associated Press

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A pro-abortion rights student group at the University of Alabama and a civil liberties organization are asking the school to re-examine whether it violated the group’s civil rights.

The Tuscaloosa News reported that leaders of the Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice believe they should not have had to ask for permits to hand out fliers to counter the message of a nearby anti-abortion rights display on the campus.

University of Alabama spokeswoman Cathy Andreen says the permit issue is based on logistics, not the content of the materials being distributed. She says whether or not a group needs a permit depends on when, where and how they plan to distribute their materials.

“It is appropriate for groups to apply for a grounds-use permit any time they are going to use university grounds or facilities,” Andreen said. University officials say the policy is in place to manage requests and ensure campus safety while avoiding disruption of daily operations.

Asher Elbein, a member of the Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice, told the newspaper he and others were told by university police to stop distributing their fliers on the campus quad.

“There was a very clear implication that if we didn’t have a permit, we didn’t need to be out there,” he said. University officials have said they have no record of any contact between police and the group.

Peter Bonilla, Director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told the newspaper that the organization wrote a letter to UA president Judy Bonner expressing concerns over the situation and hasn’t yet received a response.

“We’ll hope for and expect, at some point, to get answers from them,” he said.

Samaria Johnson, president of the Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice, says the group will likely consider contacting the American Civil Liberties Union when members return to campus for the fall semester.

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