Villanova student Elisa Carroll
They’re coming for you next: Villanova University recently told one of its students, Elisa Carroll, that it has the right to stop her from distributing pro-choice literature or contraceptives, even if she is doing it on a public sidewalk off campus and on her own time.
Carroll, recognizing that as a religious college Villanova would not provide contraceptives for its students, wanted to make them available anyway. She also recognized that she should not do it on campus, in order to respect the university’s stance. Instead, she decided to set up an unaffiliated organization that would offer such things close to but off-campus.
The university decided this was still unacceptable, and moved to forbid it.
Villanova Director of Student Involvement JJ Brown told Carroll the university would prevent her from distributing the contraceptives on a public sidewalk near campus. Brown told her that given the sidewalk’s proximity to campus and because Carroll is a Villanova student, the university could prevent her from promoting any contraceptive advocacy organizations there, including by handing out contraceptives.
In response, Carroll asked for help from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), which immediately fired off a letter to Villanova, telling it in no uncertain terms the illegality as well as the immorality of its threat.
While Villanova is not a public institution obliged by the First Amendment to protect free expression, it independently promises students “freedom of inquiry” and that the university “encourages the open exchange of ideas on a variety of subjects, including those that are controversial.” From these commitments, students like Carroll will reasonably assume they will not face punishment for speech protected by the First Amendment—the foremost legal standard concerning free expression.
The letter went to further point out that, even if Villanova didn’t encourage free inquiry on its campus, it had no legal right to try to stop Carroll from speaking when she was off campus and acting on her own time. If it didn’t like what she was doing, the most it could do was to respond publicly. As the ACLU used to say when it actually worked to defend free speech, the only right response to bad speech is more speech.
At this time we only have Carroll’s side of the story, so FIRE also added this caveat to its letter:
The following is our understanding of the pertinent facts. We appreciate that you may have additional information to offer and invite you to share it with us.
It might be that Carroll’s plans were not as innocent as they now seem. Villanova however will have to prove this, with evidence. Right now, it appears this college attempted to censor Carroll illegally.
Though this story is simply another example of the intolerant culture than now dominates once-free America, the different sides involved illustrates how widespread that culture has become. Unlike most of the blacklist stories I have covered in the past two-plus years, the victim here is not conservative, but on the left, and her oppressors are religious and conservative instead.
No matter. Freedom of speech means freedom of speech. Just because Carroll’s advocacy is in favor of birth control, a major pillar of leftwing politics, does not mean Villanova has the right to silence her. It does not, and to attempt to do so when she is not on its property is especially egregious.
This urge to control others has got to stop. If America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, we need to stop being so afraid of other points of view.