H*yas for Choice Barred From Tabling

COURTESY H*YAS FOR CHOICE H*yas for Choice members were told to leave the sidewalk outside the front gates.

H*yas for Choice members were told to leave the sidewalk outside the front gates.

Members of H*yas for Choice were temporarily removed from a previously approved tabling location on 37th Street, just outside of the university’s front gates, by a Georgetown University Police Department officer five minutes after setting up a table on the sidewalk Monday afternoon.

The group decided to table in silent protest of an event occurring in Gaston Hall, in which the university bestowed an honorary degree to Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington. Group members said they oppose Wuerl’s positions on LGBTQ rights and women’s health.

H*yas for Choice, in reaction to the event on campus, decided to table outside of the university gates on a public sidewalk so that event-goers would see them on their way to Gaston Hall. The group was removed during prime foot traffic, about 15 minutes before the ceremony’s start at 5 p.m.

As an unrecognized student group, H*yas for Choice is limited to designated free speech zones when tabling.

H*yas for Choice was allowed to table on 37th Street last year, and were in fact told to table in this exact spot after they were removed from Healy Circle during last year’s Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life. After 18 minutes in front of Healy Hall, GUPD relocated the group to this same spot just outside the campus gates.

An hour after the removal Monday, the same officer informed the group they could return to their original location on the sidewalk. It is unclear why the group was temporarily barred from tabling on the sidewalk. The university directed requests for comment to GUPD Chief of Police Jay Gruber, who was not available for comment as of press time.

The university’s current speech and expression policy, revised in May, designates spaces such as Red Square, Regents Lawn, the lobby of the Leavey Center and the Healey Family Student Center as free speech zones. A statement from Assistant Dean for Student Engagement Erika Cohen Derr at the start of the semester said that these specific designations allow campus to remain open for expression, but also safe.

“The ‘public square’ designation accommodates the physical materials and structures and also the spontaneous interest in expressing a viewpoint. Georgetown is a dense campus with many thousands of people occupying just over 100 acres,” Cohen Derr wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The designation of public squares also takes into account the need for egress and passage so that people can traverse campus safely, particularly as we enter a phase of heavy construction.”

H*yas for Choice President Abby Grace (SFS ’16) said H*yas for Choice members chose this off-campus location to ensure that their free speech was protected.

“We recognize that this is your property, so we’re going to stand on a public sidewalk that, to our knowledge, they do not own, and table there,” Grace said. “By that point, once you leave Georgetown property, the First Amendment applies.”

H*yas for Choice Vice President Vincent DeLaurentis (SFS ‘17)said that a GUPD officer approached the table and asked the group of five students to relocate within five minutes of setting up a table.

“I definitely asked for some more information and justification from him, and after radioing a superior, he told us that it’s a public sidewalk and he was going to have to ask us to leave,” DeLaurentis said.

The officer offered multiple options for relocation, including Red Square, Copley Lawn or the exterior of Lauinger Library. According to DeLaurentis, these spots took the group completely out of the eyesight of those attending the event in Gaston.

“I told him that although we understand that the university free speech policy protects those areas, it’s kind of an ineffective place for us to sit because we’re not going to be able to be seen by anyone and make our point,” DeLaurentis said. “By asking us to move there, Georgetown is paying lip service to free speech without actually protecting real substantive speech.”

According to Grace, this relocation demonstrates the on-and-off compliance with the university’s free speech and expression policy that GUPD has given H*yas for Choice over the past year.

“I think we’ve provided plenty of examples over the past year of them selectively choosing to apply policies that don’t really exist, because they’re not following them, to us,” Grace said. “The thing that’s really angering me right now is that we intentionally went to this spot because last semester when we were tabling in Healy Circle, they asked us to move there. I am dumbfounded why they would ask us to move somewhere in January and then suddenly in September, make it a spot that we’re not allowed to sit anymore.”

With the help of the GUPD officer, the students moved their table to Copley Lawn, where they tabled for an hour, obstructed by a large black gate. After that time passed, the same officer approached the table for a second time, and told the students that they could return to the public sidewalk.

“It was very clear that, first of all, he didn’t understand the free speech policy and was just kind of beholden to this mysterious superior who’s delivering orders through a walkie-talkie,” DeLaurentis said.

DeLaurentis asked to speak to the officer’s superior, who explained that H*yas for Choice could table on the sidewalk, provided they allowed three feet of space in front of the table to allow pedestrians to pass safely. When the group was relocated an hour earlier, the officer did not measure the space or explain this three-foot rule.

“I’m really questioning where they got the authority to move someone from a public sidewalk,” Grace said. “I think that that is just showing a blatant lack of training when it comes to what students’ rights are on and off campus, what should be happening and how the university selectively chooses to support some speech and systematically oppress other speech.”

H*yas for Choice’s protest follows Wuerl’s recent history with the university. The archbishop criticized the university for inviting then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to speak at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute’s graduation in 2012. Sebelius supported the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, which required employers to provide their employees with coverage for contraception.

“While we understand that Cardinal Wuerl is a major figure in Washington’s Catholic life, he also has some really controversial opinions, especially in regard to LGBTQ people and women’s health,” DeLaurentis said. “We were out there to demonstrate that while Georgetown may be giving him an honorary degree, the fact that they’re giving them this degree kind of flies in the face of a lot of Georgetown students, both who identify as LGBTQ and who care about women’s health.”

Grace said that bestowing such a degree to Wuerl goes against Georgetown’s pluralist mission.

“Georgetown can claim to be pluralist and can claim to do all these things, but please back it up,” Grace said. “Please don’t bestow a degree completely willingly upon someone who takes positions that we feel to be rather controversial and offensive.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.


  1. Thank you DPS for moving these classless abortionists out of sight. The Cardinal shouldn’t have to see their nonsense.

    • On the contrary, sir, I think these are some of the most classy abortionists in this discussion. I think in this discussion on the temporal complexities of the endowment of life into the human person, it is important for the members of the Magisterium to understand that there is a growing number of Catholic youth who disagree with the official teaching. If the Church is to do what the Church desires to do, that is change the hearts and minds of these youth, I think it is important for the Cardinal not only to see them, but to engage them in a pastoral and reasonable way. With all of the media coverage the new Holy Father’s tone over these issues has set, I’m surprised that you, who I’m assuming is Catholic (pardon my assumption) would take a position directly in opposition to the teaching of the Bishop of Rome and support the quashing of discourse and labeling those with whom you disagree as “classless”. That, my good friend, would seem to me to be very un-Catholic.

  2. The University should really be ashamed. These students were actively trying to comply with the rules they had been given the last time their rights were violated, and now you harass them just because you don’t like what they have to say? Is this really how you foster growth and community? It sounds more like a way to build intolerance and hate.

  3. ^ don’t feed the troll

  4. Shame on the Georgetown University Police State!

  5. Liberal Progressive Catholic says:

    First off, did you ever think that the degree was bestowed partially to mend relationships so that moving forward, perhaps the archbishop/cardinal will not jump so quickly to assume that we are “going against our roots” by inviting speakers like Sebelius? If people have a personal connection, they are usually less likely to jump to conclusions and fight than people who feel like they have nothing in common.

    Second, giving a degree to the archbishop/cardinal does not go against any pluralist attitudes, since pluralism gets at the idea that all (reasonable) views must enter into dialogue. I was at the ceremony, and Cardinal Wuerl said nothing hateful against LGBT individuals or women’s rights. His speech was actually quite well-written and positive.

    I’m not saying I agree with everything he’s ever done. But at the same time, give him – and the university – a break. Frankly, you were not just tabling – you were protesting. Generally speaking, all protests against speakers I’ve seen in the past 4 years were required to occur on Copley Lawn. Not Healy Circle, not directly outside the gates, but Copley Lawn. If you were trying to flaunt the rules/status quo by claiming to “table” even though you openly admit that your goal was to protest, you shouldn’t be mad that they moved you. Next time, either stick to tabling or choose to actively protest. And also, try to understand that the school needs to protect its speakers on a security level. This man, whether you like him or not, is a Cardinal. Just as I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be allowed close to the gates if the Prince of Wales came, you weren’t allowed this time either. In that sense, the time restrictions made sense. Not everything is about the school being out to get you. (Not that you’ve never had valid points — I think you have had many and I have supported you. This was just not one of them.)

  6. HFC has my deepest respect. These students behave impeccably under difficult circumstances.

  7. This statement is completely contradictory: “Georgetown can claim to be pluralist and can claim to do all these things, but please back it up,” Grace said. “Please don’t bestow a degree completely willingly upon someone who takes positions that we feel to be rather controversial and offensive.”

    So apparently Georgetown can only give honorary degrees to people that H*yas for Choice agrees with?

  8. From what I can discern, HFC was definitely wronged here. I distinctly recall a large group of (non-Georgetown affiliated) TFP protestors outside of Kathleen Sebelius stationed at the very same corner.

    That said, Abby Grace’s statement at the end of this article is patently ridiculous. Pluralism is not about only being exposed to viewpoints you agree with — it is about accepting that there is something valuable to be gained in interacting with those who hold “controversial and offensive” positions.

  9. While I understand frustration at being told to leave a public space, I think HFC members do need to recognize that they attend a Catholic university where pluralism will include viewpoints of the Catholic Church. There is a history of students from all different groups (not just the HFC) being asked to move locations when public figures come to campus, especially if any security is involved. These are often technical decisions made to comply with safety regulations, not just political decisions to try to “silence” one group.

    Additionally, while it would be great if the HFC did update their standings on certain issues, I think they should also remember that they do not provide any resources for queer women on campus. Not only do they not carry dental dams or latex gloves, but they also lack the information to assist any students with questions, leaving out a large segment of the LGBTQ population.

    • I don’t know if this is all true, but I think I’ve heard that HFC has been talking about how to better serve LGBTQ students. I’ve also heard they’re working on some kind of sex ed literature for distribution (which may or may not be hetero-normative, time will tell). I’m also pretty sure all of the condoms they get are donations from other organizations, so they probably have little if any say on what they get in terms of safe-sex supplies.

      & FYI, I know it’s not the real thing, but a HFC condom can be turned into a dental dam in a pinch.

  10. I’m not sure that GUPD has jurisdiction over the space outside the front gates. What would have happened if the students refused to leave?

    On another note, can the University please check with Ms. Grace before it bestows honorary degrees? We wouldn’t want to compromise Georgetown’s pluralist identity by honoring someone like Cardinal Wuerl.

  11. I don’t believe that Ms. Grace intended to insinuate that the University should confer with her and her organization. Rather, I believe she wishes Georgetown Administration to fully consider the backgrounds and views of those being honored while also reminding themselves of the pluralism the University claims to promote. Furthermore, any attack on Ms. Grace is quite frankly uncalled for. The HFC was unjustly escorted from a public space while non-violently protesting. Ms. Grace is not a ‘classless’ figure, rather she is a strong, independent woman who wishes to improve student life on campus in every possible way. Stop being catty, and focus on the actual issues on hand.

  12. I can’t believe Erika Cohen-Derr cited “construction” and “safety” as the university’s excuse for hassling a group whose viwes they don’t agree with. What a bunch of bunk.

  13. This whole saga is ridiculous. I’m staunchly pro-life, but HFC has a right to table and/or protest (whatever you choose to call this, it really doesn’t matter) even if the university doesn’t like what they have to say. It was already outrageous that the police removed HFC from Healy Circle after 18 minutes back in the spring, but now the police are telling HFC that they can’t be where the police said was okay last time? For a university whose goal is to educate future world leaders and politicians, Georgetown has a disturbing level of restriction on free speech. Freedom of speech only exists if it protects speech that authority figures find uncomfortable or even offensive. By this standard, we do not have freedom of speech at Georgetown.

  14. Agree with “John Smith” on this one. A pluralistic university is one which entertains arguments from all sides of an ideological dispute, not one which seeks affirmation from its student body. Students are at a university to learn, not to govern who the university chooses to honor, and the university – which is Catholic, whether students care to admit that or not – is completely within its rights to extend an honorary degree to a very accomplished leader in the Catholic faith.

    I was very appreciative of Georgetown’s tolerance of free speech when I was a student, and I still think it is a vital component to the university’s approach to education, but students should be careful not mistake their opinion with the correct opinion.

  15. Disappointed Alum says:

    This seems like a seriously biased article. It makes no attempts to attend to the the points of view of people outside of H*yas for Choice. Poor journalism.

  16. As an alumni of Georgetown I think its important that the University stay true to its Catholic identity. This means not being neutral on matters of faith and morals.It means not supporting moral relativism. There is a Catholic position on these issues which the University should endorse. The University should be open to debate and discussion regarding positions that are contrary to the faith but only in as much as it will serve an evangelization purpose.

    The vast majority of universities in the country are not Catholic. Why come to a Catholic university and expect them to accept non-catholic positions on key issues as equally valid. I wouldn’t go to “Secular State School” and demand my rights to Eucharistic Adoration. People need to use common sense.

    There is no point to putting that HFC table out there other than to be annoying. Do you really think the Cardinal doesn’t know about birth control or the percentage of Catholics that use it? I mean this isn’t groundbreaking stuff here. The only purpose is to agitate.

    Perhaps the school has been too permissive and in giving an inch they now are being asked to give a mile. Better to be true and honest even if it means lower enrollment.

  17. So they go to a Jesuit school and are surprised to find out that a Cardinal might be coming to their school? If you choose to attend a Catholic School you shouldn’t be surprised when you’re asked to respect the schools religious traditions. You should be more surprised (and grateful) that someone who supports the ACA was invited.

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