Suspension of Three Providence College Students Sparks Protests

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - The recent suspension of three Providence College students, who handed out an abortion-rights flier containing an image of the Virgin Mary resulted in a protest by some 50 classmates on Thursday.

The flier read, "How's This for an Immaculate Conception: Keep Abortion Safe and Legal."

The students were in the process of posting the flier on a classroom door last month when they were seen by a priest-professor who had arrived to teach a theology class. The cleric demanded the students stop and then reported them to the administration of the Roman Catholic college, located in Providence, Rhode Island.

The February suspensions led to a silent vigil outside the school's administration building, with students carrying placards that insisted the college's action was a violation of free speech. "Do I pay for you to oppress me," read one sign. "The First Amendment does not stop at the gates of Providence College. Protect your rights," read another.

"We're speaking to our right to free speech and to protest the administration's action," said Devan Chase, a 20-year-old sophomore.

Several faculty members joined students in opposing the suspensions.

"We're supposed to be here to share ideas and debate", said Psychology Professor John Colby. "We're providing opportunities for some people to express different points of view. It's not as though they committed some crime."

But at least one protester agreed with the administration's decision to suspend the three students.

"The fliers themselves were a defamation of the image of the Virgin Mary," said 20-year-old junior Stephanie Fitzgerald. "It's a Catholic institution's duty to uphold the teachings of the faith."

As for the college, officials stood their ground, insisting they had every right to suspend the three students. Characterizing the flier as "deplorable," a spokesman said, "The deliberate misuse of the image of the Blessed Virgin...cannot be defended under the guise of free speech...we don't dispute their opinion, but rather how it was expressed."