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Articles of Interest by Jay B. Itkowitz During his Journalism Career

St. John's campus off limits to Baird

Long Island Press, September 20, 1973

Does free speech exist at St. John's University?

That depends on who you talk to.

Bill Baird, the abortion advocate from North Valley Stream, thinks not. He was threatened with arrest yesterday if he dared to step onto the Queens campus.

Nor does Richard Branciforte, the publisher of "Good Times," an underground newspaper sold on the newsstands and distributed free on campuses throughout Long Island. "Good Times" was barred from St. John's last spring after it ran a pro-abortion advertisement.

Baird, who has an article on abortion and birth control in the current issue of "Good Times," arrived at the campus to distribute copies of the paper. Barring that, he wanted to speak to Eric Larsen, editor of the campus newspaper, The Torch. Larsen is attempting to set up a debate between Baird and a St. John's faculty member.

But as Baird stepped onto campus, accompanied by his supporters as well as newsmen, the abortion advocate was told by William McKeever, the campus security chief, that he would be arrested if he did not leave.

McKeever, who said he was acting on orders from St. John's president, Rev. Joseph T. Cahill, C.M., told Baird he would have to leave even if he divested himself of the newspapers.

Baird handed them over to St. John's student Charles Gatto of Elmont, who invited him onto the campus to try and visit the president.

Gatto was warned not to accept the papers, but did so anyway. He did not distribute them, however. Gatto was followed onto the campus by Baird's supporters, who also refrained from passing out the forbidden publication.

Baird, meanwhile, passed out copies of the paper at the gate.

Since everyone else was allowed on campus, Baird accused St. John's of discriminating against him because of his abortion views. He said his attorney would seek a temporary injunction today, ordering St. John's to lift the ban.

"St. John's students have a right to know about the other side of abortion," he said. "Catholic people have intercourse too. A sexual drive exists at St. John's, just like on every other campus I've been on."

Baird said his group, The Parents' Aid Society in Hempstead, has helped over 20,000 women obtain abortions. "Of that number," he added, "62 percent were Catholics and three were nuns."

"I am not fighting the religion," said Baird. "I'm fighting the political arm of the church, which seeks to impose its views on non-Catholics." Baird said he would be back on Tuesday, the day Larsen hopes to bring about the debate. Larsen, however, said yesterday that thus far no one has agreed to debate Baird.

Larsen said if no one agrees to face Baird, he will try to schedule the debate for another time.

Larsen also said he believed that if a student group invited Baird to speak on campus, the administration would give their permission.

However, that wasn't the view of Martin J. Healy, director of public relations.

"Students just can't invite anyone onto campus. That would be like issuing an open invitation to rabble rousers to come onto the campus to disrupt," said Healy.

Healy added, however, that Baird could speak if Larsen "can find someone to debate him."