News A picture yells a thousand words

Justice for all, free speech for some

After stirring controversy at six Texas universities, including UT, Baylor, and Texas A&M, Justice For All, the traveling anti-abortion exhibit, made its way to UTSA's 1604 campus March 21-24. The exhibit, consisting of 16-to-18-foot-high graphic pictures of aborted fetuses and "fact" boxes, was sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund; its recent activities include appealing a California Superior Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage and sponsoring a "Day of Truth" event to counter the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network's "Day of Silence." The exhibit was co-sponsored by Students For Life, a UTSA anti-abortion organization.

Justice For All, an anti-abortion exhibit, featured 18-foot-high panels of embryos and aborted fetuses.

Those who remember the hubbub over Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton's commencement address at UTSA three years ago might also remember the university's free-speech zones. Students or student organizations are corralled in these zones so they can express themselves while remaining safely away from the day-to-day operations of the campus - or the objects of their derision. (Although UTSA is a public university supported by public tax dollars, non-students must take their free speech to UTSA Boulevard, where those Norton opponents were ordered to retreat.)

Yet, the Justice For All exhibit, unlike the Norton protestors, wasn't confined to a free-speech zone. Students For Life and Justice For All members roamed the campus and approached strangers, attempting to engage them in a debate over reproductive rights.

Couldn't large pictures of fetuses standing in the middle of campus and roaming interlocuters generate as heated a disturbance as someone carrying a "Secretary Inferior!" sign?

The answer is a squeamish no. Marianne Lewis, associate director of Public Affairs at UTSA, explained that free-speech zones are actually free-SPEECH zones, intended for anyone using amplified sound, such as a megaphone.

Gory, inflammatory pictures are not speech, according to UTSA. Since the exhibit was comprised of panels the height of one-story buildings - which did not need a megaphone to get their message across - UTSA officials allowed organizers to set it up in a highly visible location near the Sombrilla, a main thoroughfare and student gathering place. Smaller versions of the panels were lined up against a building just around the corner.

Alas, UTSA is a victim, too. An article on the Alliance Defense Fund website reports that the university "finally approved the request of a pro-life student organization to reserve facilities for an event and has rescinded its requirement that the club pay for police security. The school does not require other student organizations to pay for security at events."

The article also cites a letter from James Spencer, chief counsel of Justice For All and lawyer with the ADF, to the university in which he refers to the security costs as an "unconstitutional barrier to free speech."

However, Lewis said that security was an issue, considering the violence that erupted at a 2001 Justice For All exhibit at the University of Texas. What Justice For All doesn't know is that it was afforded far more free speech than its chanting, placard-carrying, anti-Bush Administration counterparts.