Anti-abortion activists sue Colo. college over demonstration policies

COLORADO — Two anti-abortion activists are suing a Colorado public college alleging their First Amendment rights were violated when they were arrested for protesting on the sidewalk of a public street on campus without a permit.

Keith Mason and Jonathan O’Toole, members of Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, sued the Colorado School of Mines on July 8 in U.S. District Court claiming a violation of their First Amendment rights. Mason and O’Toole are asking that the colleges permits policy be ruled unconstitutional.

Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust is an organization that travels the country displaying pictures of fetuses and abortion procedures at college campuses and high schools.

Mason said he and O’Toole as well as other members of the organization arrived at the college on March 2004 and searched for an area to set up their signs and protest. Mason said after not being able to find a college administrator who could tell them where they were allowed to protest, the group set up their signs and literature on the sidewalk of a public street on campus and proceeded to speak with students who walked by.

Mason said after demonstrating for some time, a campus police officer told Mason and the group that they needed a permit to protest. Since the group did not have permits to protest on the sidewalk, the police officers told them they would have to leave. Mason said he resisted and was arrested, as was O’Toole, who refused to show the officer his identification.

Mason said he and O’Toole were held in police custody for several hours before being released.

Mason said he believes the protest was broken up because someone complained about the content of the posters, which featured photos of fetuses and abortion.

“Clearly we have the right to be on the sidewalk and express ourselves,” Mason said. “The officer arresting us violated our rights and didn’t allow us to express ourselves.”

Marsha Konegni, spokeswoman for the Colorado School of Mines, said the college had not yet received the complaint and did not want to comment.

Mason, who has won previous lawsuits against colleges’ and universities concerning his right to protest on public school grounds, said the experience of being arrested and held for several hours was humiliating for him.

“I was treated like a criminal for using rights people have died to give me,” Mason said.

Mason also said he believes it is getting harder for groups to protest on campus because of rules universities place on where students can demonstrate.

“From what I’ve noticed, colleges have been trying to restrict speech, especially speech that the administration doesn’t deem acceptable,” Mason said. “I want to make a difference and send a message out to administrators around the country that campuses should be a place where the public can exchange ideas.”

–Rebecca McNulty