Administration at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, reportedly shot down a student's suggestion to erect a cross display for the lives of the unborn killed by abortion.
The school said that it wouldn't be permitted because it dealt with a "divisive" matter.
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."
What are the details?
As highlighted by Campus Reform, Emily Kokot, a student at the school and chairperson of Young Americans for Freedom secretary and treasurer, wanted to erect a display featuring crosses for the unborn.
Dean of Students Brad Nason said, however, that such a display would take away a person's "right [to] choose to engage or not engage" with certain hot-button topics like abortion.
A letter from Nason said, "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 letter continued, "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."
Kokot responded to Nason's remarks, pointing out that students should be able to engage with different points of view.
"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," she wrote. "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."
Nason responded, "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."
What happened then?
When it was clear that her argument would render no results, Kokot reached out to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The organization then sent a letter to the school calling it out for trying to muffle pro-life students' rights to voice their opinions and remain steadfast in their faith.
A portion of the organization's letter stated, "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?"
"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," the letter continued. "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."