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ACLU Challenges Alabama Statute Targeting Gay Student Groups
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, September 27, 1993
The American Civil Liberties Union today challenged an Alabama
statute aimed at outlawing lesbian and gay student groups on state
university campuses, charging in court papers that the law violates the
constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association. The suit is
brought on behalf of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance at the University
of South Alabama, a group that has suffered repeated denials of funding
under the 1992 statute.
The contested law, Section 16-1-28 of Alabama's Education Code,
prohibits any college or university in the state from spending public
funds or using public facilities "to, directly or indirectly, sanction,
recognize, or support" any group that "fosters or promotes a lifestyle or
actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws" of the
"Alabama has tried to legislate away the free speech and association
rights of lesbian and gay college students," said Ruth E. Harlow,
Associate Director of the ACLU's national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project,
which is lead counsel on the case.
"The United States Constitution, however, applies to everyone --
whether a student member of a gay alliance or the Federalist Society," she
said. "We are bringing this case to restore the free exchange of ideas on
Alabama university campuses."
The suit was filed today, the first day of classes for the fall
quarter, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in
Montgomery. The defendants are the Alabama Attorney General, Jimmy Evans,
and two officials at the University of South Alabama. The Attorney
General, in July of 1993, issued an official opinion that the Gay Lesbian
Bisexual Alliance should be denied routine student group funding as a
result of the statute.
"Those of us who believe in the Bill of Rights are tired of
government-sanctioned bigotry against lesbian and gay students in
Alabama," said Olivia Turner, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alabama,
which is also counsel in the suit. "Gay and lesbian students are being
harassed and denied equal treatment," Turner said. "The law suit will stop
Alabama's embarrassing discrimination against its citizens."
The ACLU's suit seeks to have the statute declared unconstitutional
and to stop any further enforcement of the law. In addition to the speech
and association claims, the suit contends that the statute is
unconstitutionally vague and that gay students have been specially
targeted under the law in violation of the equal protection clause. The
law itself is written so broadly and in such a vague manner, the ACLU
maintains, that it could apply to almost any campus social group.
"We have complied with every university rule concerning student
groups," said George Hite Wilson, President of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual
Alliance. "We are a group that works to allow all students, homosexual and
heterosexual, to live and work together in a productive way. Instead of
helping us convey that message, the State of Alabama is instead conveying
a message of bigotry and hatred."
Fern Singer of Watterson and Singer in Birmingham serves as the
cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Alabama in the case. The defendants
have approximately one month to file their first papers in court.
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