Med Student Sues EVMS on Free Speech Grounds

by James A. Bacon

Edward Si, a student at the Eastern Virginia Medical School, has filed a lawsuit to stop the institution from blocking his effort to establish a local chapter of the Students for a National Health Program. The Student Government Association denied the club’s application for recognition on the grounds that it “does not want to create clubs based on opinions, political or otherwise” — despite recognizing other opinion-based groups such as Medical Students for Choice and the Christian Medical and Dental Association.

“I decided to sue in order to uncover the truth and to stand up for my basic constitutional and human rights,” said Si, who is backed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). “Without freedom of expression, there can be no student activism and political advocacy.”

Si filed on behalf of himself and 20 other prospective SNaHP members in December. The student government turned him down the following month. According to a FIRE press release, SI spent months trying to persuaded administrators to reverse the unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. University officials declined to intervene.

Recognized clubs at EVMS receive a variety of benefits, including funding eligibility, use of the school’s name and branding, and use of campus facilities.

“When a public med school says that a student can’t start a club promoting universal healthcare, it’s clear that First Amendment rights are dead on arrival,” said FIRE Attorney Greg Greubel. “EVMS has granted its student government the authority to recognize student clubs, but stands idly by when that authority is abused. FIRE will not rest until EVMS ensures all of its students equal treatment in accordance with their rights.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Personally, I don’t favor a national health program, but I do support Si’s right to advocate for change. And he seems to have a point about the double standards in play: Take a look at the most recent Facebook entry of the Medical Students for Choice-EVMS Chapter, which promotes a rally in Richmond:

Join MSFC – EVMS chapter, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, and our allies as we fill the room to represent the 72% of Virginians who support safe, legal abortion access. For the first time this year, the Virginia Board of Health will convene to discuss anti-abortion TRAP restrictions in the Commonwealth. Under the guide of “protecting women’s health,” we know the true motivation of these medically unnecessary, burdensome restrictions: to close our trusted healthcare clinics and shutter access to abortion in Virginia.

Clearly, the med students for choice are expressing opinions on a very controversial topic. EVMS needs to be consistent. Either it refuses to fund any group that, as an organization, advocates a political point of view or it eliminates the no-opinions dictum as a funding criteria.