Campus Strife

A free-speech battle at ASU centers on enormous posters of aborted fetuses

Heather Gebelin Hacker, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund representing the students, says the fees were an attempt to prevent the students from holding their event.

"We're talking about a group of college students expected to pay hundreds of dollars to exercise their First Amendment rights," she says.

She says the university was unable to produce proof that the insurance requirement was enforced for other student organizations and says even Students for Life held events in the past with no mention of an insurance requirement or reservation fee.

ASU counters that it was within its rights to ask for insurance. It makes no mention of the $50 reservation fee, the $300 vendor fee or the inconsistent zone policy.

Nancy Tribbensee, from ASU's office of general counsel, would not comment on specifics of the case, but denied the students were discriminated against based on the content of their speech.

In an e-mail (New Times was unable to reach her on the phone after leaving several voice messages), Tribbensee says the JFA exhibit required insurance because it involved a complicated, and possibly dangerous, setup procedure each day.

"The physical nature of the exhibits and the risk associated with driving vehicles on the pedestrian mall are what resulted in the insurance requirement," she says.

In April, Students for Life ran into trouble again when the group wanted to set up a table to pass out anti-abortion literature during Dignity of Life Week.

In her e-mail, Tribbensee says student groups don't usually need insurance for these types of activities: "In general, speaking on the mall or handing out pamphlets or pictures would not itself be considered to present the level of risk that would require insurance."

Yet Students for Life was told it would have to provide insurance for all third-party groups who would be sitting with them.

When White got an insurance quote this time around, it came out to $935.80.

"I don't know if there was a culminating moment [in the decision to sue]," says Gebelin Hacker. "But the utter ridiculousness to them [ASU] applying this policy to students just sitting at a table and passing out brochures . . . they had to ask why are we being treated differently."

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