Ferguson Center director apologizes to student group over display controversy

Updated on Feb. 18 at 7:45 p.m. with comments from Cathy Andreen, director of media relations.

The director of the Ferguson Center issued an apology through email Monday afternoon to Bama Students for Life following the early removal of the group’s anti-abortion poster board from a Ferguson Center display case that sparked a nationwide controversy.

“Please accept my apology that your display was removed without your knowledge two days before your reserved time expired. You have two options available to you to complete your 30-day reservation,” the email from Carl Bacon, director of the Ferguson Center, read. “The same display case will be available for two days starting February 22nd, or the case between the SGA office and the office of the Dean of Students is available this week for two days.”

BSFL President Claire Chretien said the emailed apology, which also invited BSFL to return their display to the case, came in response to a formal complaint sent to Bacon from the anti-abortion student organization after its display was removed before the end of the reservation period.

(See also "Bama Students for Life win national group award")

“We are very happy that The University of Alabama is siding with free speech, and we’re very glad that they did the right thing,” Chretien said Monday night.

Cathy Andreen, director of media relations, confirmed in an emailed statement that the BSFL display will return to the Ferguson center again on Thursday afternoon for two more days.

"Bama Students for Life contacted the Ferguson staff this afternoon and confirmed that they would like to put the display up on Thursday afternoon," Andreen said." It will be in the display case between the Dean of Students office and the SGA office."

BSFL reserved the case from Jan. 8 through Feb. 7, but when group members checked Feb. 6, a day before the reservation expired, the poster had been removed.

Chretien secretly videotaped a conversation she had with Ferguson Center staff, in particular Donna Lake, an event coordinator at the Ferguson Center.

The video, which helped propel the story to the attention of state and national media outlets, records Chretien and Lake discussing the removal of the display. Lake can be heard saying the poster was removed after Ferguson Center staff received complaints from students about “graphic and offensive” images on the display, which she said was part of the policy regarding use of the display case.

The display case policy posted on the Ferguson Center’s website lists no restrictions concerning the content of displays.

“We are asking that you respond to us by Monday, February 17th and issue an apology for removing our pro-life display without any notice,” the letter sent to Bacon read. “We would also like to put up our display in the Ferguson Center display case during the next available slot.”

Andreen said the University is continuing to review its policy regarding display cases in the Ferguson center.

(See also "How the University arbitrarily silenced free speech for students")

Following the incident, Bama Students for Life retained legal counsel from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a faith-based legal group out of Phoenix, Ariz.

While no legal actions were taken, Matt Sharp, the ADF lawyer representing BSFL, said Sunday that he and the group’s leaders would plan their next steps if the requests in the letter were not met.

Last week, the University released a statement saying it was reviewing the display case policies as a result of the controversy, but Chretien said Bacon’s email did not mention any changes to the policy. Chretien said BSFL was pleased with the University’s response and would not be pursuing any legal action over the matter.

“We’re very glad that the University has helped us right this wrong,” Chretien said. “The problem was always kind of with the bureaucracy of the administration. It wasn’t any one particular employee that we were going after or trying to point out in any way. We were upset with the action of censorship, not with the people themselves.”

To help the anti-abortion student group with their requests from the University, nationally known anti-abortion activist Pat Mahoney was scheduled to arrive in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday for two days of public events and speeches. Chretien said now that the issue has been resolved, Mahoney will still be speaking at the group’s meeting Wednesday night but will also take part in the return of the poster to the display case, which Chretien said will probably take place Thursday.

“He’s still going to be speaking on Wednesday. I think he’s going to be asking the University to make sure that this never happens again,” Chretien said. “He will be celebrating this victory for free speech with us by putting the display case back up with us.”

The meeting will take place in 107 ten Hoor Hall at 7 p.m. Chretien said she’s happy with the outcome of the controversy and considers it a victory for free speech rather than just anti-abortion advocacy.

“We’re just going to put the display case back up, and we’re very grateful that the University did the right thing and is allowing us to be treated the same as every other student group,” she said.

(See also "Our View: Bama Students for Life should examine the language they use")

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