2.04.2009

catching up, part 2: we don't like your beliefs, so we don't have to fund them

The second story has been going on for a long time, but seems to have raised its head recently.

Last year, the Canadian Federation of Students passed a resolution upholding the right of student unions at member schools to deny funding and office space to anti-choice groups. This week, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association sent a letter to the CFS objecting to that resolution.
Denying campus-club status to groups that oppose abortion infringes on freedom of speech, says a civil liberties group, wading into a dispute that in recent months has pitted several university student associations against religious groups.

In a letter, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is objecting to a resolution supporting student unions that denies funding and office space for anti-abortion groups.

The letter was sent last week to the Canadian Federation of Students, said CCLA general counsel Alan Borovoy.

"We decided to weigh in on this, a rather disquieting development in the university environment, which is supposed to encourage debate," Mr. Borovoy said in an interview.

A CFS spokesman, Joel Duff, said the resolution, adopted by federation delegates a year ago, lends moral support to student unions who are opposed to funding anti-abortion groups. But, he said, CFS member associations are autonomous and are not bound by the motion.

Mr. Duff noted that the student unions' opposition to financing was upheld last fall by the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

A group calling itself Students for Life had taken the student union of UBC Okanagan to court, arguing that denying them funding was a form of religious discrimination. In endorsing a previous ruling by the provincial human-rights commission, the B.C. Supreme Court rejected the group's contention. Mr. Justice R.S.K. Wong said religious freedom didn't mean forcing every student to fund a person's views.

Mr. Borovoy said his association has a "strongly pro-choice orientation," but also believes strongly in freedom of expression.

"What is there about these anti-abortion groups that warrant such special denigration?" the CCLA letter said, adding that "the proper response is argument, not censorship."

But Mr. Duff said student unions have finite resources and aren't obliged to help every group that seeks status on campus.

"Student union resources are not an entitlement. . . . This is not about access to university, but about access to student union space," he said.

Every cell in my adult female body loathes what these groups stand for: the subjugation of women, the denial of bodily integrity and personal autonomy, the imposition of fundamentalist religious beliefs on a secular society. But I question on what basis a student union can deny them funds.

Free speech and expression is for everyone, not just the people we agree with. It's true that student union funds are not an entitlement, but if other political and religious groups are funded, how can you justify this?

Surely supporters of reproductive rights realize that if funds can be denied to these groups today, in another political climate, they can be denied to our side tomorrow? I've spent my life defending reproductive freedom, but bodily freedoms can't be separated from freedom of thought and freedom of expression.

I'm thinking there must be more to this than I'm currently aware of, because it seems to be blatant discrimination. What am I missing?

Perhaps some people from the pro-choice blog community will stop by to fill me in, and hopefully they will shed light without giving me a lot of heat.

Update: Antonia Zerbisias on the same topic, thanks to skdadl.

14 comments:

skdadl said...

I certainly agree with you, Laura, and I know that Antonia Z. does -- she blogged about it here.

We have some work to do 'splainin' the kind of commitment that civil liberties really demand. All praise to Alan Borovoy for his commitment over the years.

L-girl said...

Thank you, Skdadl, I'm encouraged to hear that.

I missed Antonia's post about it, so thanks for the link, too.

Kevin said...

Hi L-girl! May I forward to one of my feminist-centric blogs and see if any of their visitors have any more data?

Thanks!

Kevin said...

Sending this comment to enable follow-up comments.

L-girl said...

Kevin, it's considered bad blog etiquette to use a blog's comments to promote your own posts. Why don't you email it to me, maybe I will post it on a slow day. Thanks.

L-girl said...

I certainly agree with you, Laura, and I know that Antonia Z. does -- she blogged about it here.

I missed Antonia's post about it, so thanks for the link, too.


Ah-ha, now I know why I missed it - too recent. My blog reading is never that up-to-date.

Kevin said...

Sorry, L-girl, I don't think I am expressing myself correctly.

May I forward your link to this post to one of my other blogs, ie, posting it in their blog around, seeing if anyone there has any information.

I am not trying to post any of my work, I am trying to get your permission to post a link back to WMTC on another blog to see if any of the Canadians there know more abotu the case.

Mea Culpa, I love reading your blog, and have nothing "intelligent" to contribute.

L-girl said...

Oh sheesh Kevin, I'm so sorry. I read that as "may I forward", not "may I forward this to". Sorry!!

You are very welcome to circulate this anywhere you like.

And in fact, you don't need a blogger's permission to do that! (Another blog etiquette note.)

and have nothing "intelligent" to contribute.

Not so! I always like your comments, which run along the lines of "get me the fuck out of here!!" :>)

James said...

As the saying goes, "Free speech has to protect speech we despise, or it means nothing. No-one's trying to suppress things they agree with in the first place."

David Heap said...

With respect, I submit that this is not really a matter of free speech: the anti-choice message is not in the least threatened, on Canadian university campuses (or anywhere else that I've noticed). Thanks to well-funded fundamentalists, this lobby gets their message across loud and clear in plenty of places. Including on and around campuses: religious groups not only have free space provided for chaplains (who can and do promote anti-choice messages), they often have prime real-estate handily located near many campuses, which all of us subsidize (like it or not) through the tax system.

The right to free speech is not the same thing as the privilege of using the limited resources of a student union to promote a group's sectarian views. Student groups (which are never going to be as well-funded as religious organizations) have every right to make decisions about what they are going to fund and what they are not going to fund. We may or may not agree with their decisions (or how they make them), but let's not confuse that with sacred principles of free speech.

Nobody's free speech is being muzzled here. Debate on these issues is alive and kicking on university campuses, as Alan Borovoy would notice if actually he bothered to check.

When secular humanists & abortion rights organizations receive the same levels of indirect government support the churches do (not holding my breath on that), I might start worrying about the civil liberties of the poor beleaguered anti-choice groups, but for now (and for the forseeable future) such groups enjoy a huge advantage in terms of the financial and other resources they can bring to bear to support their point of view.

They have the collection plates, they don't need the student levies as well.

If student organizations can democratically decide to spend their limited resources to push back against a societal bias which structurally favours religious points of view, more power to them.

David Heap said...

if other political and religious groups are funded, how can you justify this?

According to your post, Mr. Justice R.S.K. Wong of the B.C. Supreme Court already did: "religious freedom didn't mean forcing every student to fund a person's views."

I believe many student organizations have a general rule against supporting religious groups from student levy funds, and despite all the "civil liberties" noise, these decisions simply fall under those blanket policies.

L-girl said...

Thanks, David. I saw the judge's decision, but I disagree with it. To me the point is not how well-funded any particular cause is, nor any group's need for funds. It's the exclusion of a group whose viewpoints the fund administrator finds odious. I find it utterly odious, too, but I hope that would never be the test of funding. Today it's them, tomorrow it's us. Thanks for your thoughts.

David Heap said...

Provided the "fund administrator" is not some anti-democratic commissar but a democratically-run student organization, then it needn't be a question of finding anti-choice views "odious", just not in need of even more funding out of students' pockets. Or do student organizations not have the right to run their own budget's without Mr. Borovoy's stamp of approval? Seems rather paternalistic, frankly.

L-girl said...

David, you know this has nothing to do with Borovoy's approval. And the cover of "democratically elected" should not trump the principle of freedom of expression for all. The majority cannot be allowed to curtail the minority's speech.

If the minority was pro-choice and the majority anti-choice, and the funds were voted down because of that, you'd have no problem seeing the principle.