Anti-abortion club files lawsuit against Queens College

A conservative Christian advocacy group filed a federal lawsuit against Queens College, last month, alleging that the school violated an anti-abortion student organization’s First Amendment rights.

Alliance Defending Freedom filed the lawsuit on the behalf of Queens College Students for Life, a Queens College chapter of Students for Life of America. The student organization’s application for registration was allegedly delayed and denied without an explanation during the Fall 2016 semester.

The lawsuit states that, “Queens College Students for Life operates at a disadvantage to other registered student groups that have been granted RSO [Registered Student Organization] status and the benefits of registration, including student organization funding.”

Queens College Students for Life is a non-profit organization headed by Queens College student Norvilia Etienne. The organization’s goal is to spread an anti-abortion message by way of “distributing flyers, displaying signs, holding peaceful demonstrations, hosting tables with information, inviting speakers to campus and talking with fellow students about its pro-life views.”

According to the lawsuit, Etienne first contacted Queens College’s Student Life Office in August 2016 with a request to register her organization. The lawsuit further states that Etienne met with former Queens College Student Development & Leadership Coordinator Severino Randazzo, whose “demeanor changed” when Etienne mentioned that she was attempting to register an anti-abortion organization. Randazzo is listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Etienne then proceeded to submit forms for registration. On Nov. 7, Etienne was permitted to present to Queens College’s Campus Affairs Committee in support of the organization. Etienne and other members of the organization detailed how and why they would establish an anti-abortion culture on campus. The lawsuit alleges that while Etienne detailed to the committee the high rates of abortion among college-aged women, defendant and Chairman of the Campus Affairs Committee Jessica Shamash interrupted Etienne “midsentence” and told “her to just talk about the club.” The CAC then “abruptly ended the meeting in the middle of a short video Etienne showed about how Student for Life clubs have served pregnant students on other campuses.”

The students were allegedly told that they would be notified of the CAC’s decision later that same day. However, it was not until Nov. 14 that Etienne received an email stating that the club’s registration had been rejected. The CAC has allegedly not given an explanation for the rejection or tips on how the club could improve its application. However, according to an email statement from Queens College Assistant Director of News Services Maria Matteo, the club’s application was recently approved.

“Queens College Office of Student Affairs has reviewed and approved a student application for a proposed club, ‘Queens College Students for Life,’ that had been previously rejected by a student committee. As with all student organizations, there are certain steps that must be taken to maintain active status. The student club officers will be advised to be in touch with the college’s Office of Student Affairs,” said Matteo in an email to The Ticker.

Matteo went on to state that, “Queens College welcomes the participation of all students in diverse campus activities. There are over 80 active student clubs and organizations. Today’s decision is consistent with the college’s commitment to an open and inclusive environment.”

As of press time, Matteo did not respond to a follow-up email inquiring as to why the CAC initially rejected the organization’s application.

The lawsuit comes amid efforts by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to expand access to free abortions and contraceptives for New Yorkers. Cuomo plans to reinforce existing regulations that require health insurance providers to provide coverage for contraception and medically-necessary abortions.