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About 150 students walked out of a planned event during Westmont College’s chapel service Monday morning, protesting the scheduled speaker Lila Rose, founder and president of the nation’s largest anti-abortion organization, Live Action.

Students involved in the walkout said it was a “peaceful” demonstration, “protesting Westmont’s inability to follow their own diversity standards in hiring campus speakers.”

“Rose is a vocally homophobic, incredibly controversial speaker, whose hateful remarks towards the LGBTQ+ community make her unfit to speak at Westmont,” one student told the Independent.

According to Live Action’s website, Rose’s speech was meant to “encourage students on the Christian campus to speak out and work against abortion.”

The lecture was held during one of Westmont’s chapel services, which are mandatory for every one of the school’s more than 1,200 students.

According to college officials, a group of about 150 students stood up and walked out of the chapel service as soon as Rose was introduced. About 1,000 people remained in the hall.

Students involved in the protest released a statement about the college’s decision to schedule Rose and other “controversial” speakers like theologian Carl Trueman, who is scheduled to give a lecture Thursday afternoon on his latest book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, which explores gender and sexual identity through a religious lens.

The statement questions “Westmont’s contradictory behavior in claiming to be committed to diversity” with its chapel and campus-wide lectures while at the same time consistently presenting one “undeniably politically and socially conservative” school of thought. 

“If Westmont desires to foster conversation about the incredibly sensitive and highly politicized topic of abortion,” the statement reads, “they should not have done so with a high-profile, vocally homophobic speaker, at a required venue like chapel that contains no opportunity for Q&A or further discussion. Westmont’s hiring of these two controversial, right-wing speakers, with no evident attempt to bring in voices with opposing opinions, is evident of their lack of commitment to their own diversity standards.”

Students have already planned a similar demonstration ahead of Trueman’s lecture on Thursday afternoon.

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According to a “free speech and assembly form” filed by students and obtained by The Independent, students will “peacefully and non-disruptively attend Dr. Truemans lecture” before congregating on the Dining Commons Lawn afterward for a “Gathering to Advocate for the Promotion of Diverse Voices at Westmont” at 5:30 p.m.

There will be guest speakers to offer “cross-perspective dialogue,” according to the student form, and students included a list of “requests” in light of recent events.

Among those requests, students ask that Westmont: “Hosts, or makes clear attempts to host, chapel speakers and guest lecturers who hold opposing or significantly different viewpoints” from the two speakers this week; offer an apology from campus Pastor Scott Lisea for the “moral and academic disparagement” of students’ choice to engage in a peaceful demonstration;  take clear steps to “provide more oversight” into the process of selecting chapel speakers; and to form a student advisory council with underrepresented voices that can ensure “diversity standards are upheld” going forward.

In messages sent out before Thursday’s demonstration, students wrote that “Westmont has a vast, largely unseen LGBTQ+ population,” many of whom feel uncomfortable identifying as queer publicly due to a “unwelcoming culture” at the school. “If you are a Westmont student, ask yourself this,” the flyer reads, “is this the kind of culture we should be creating?”

Scott Craig, manager of Media Relations at Westmont College, said that the students participating in the walkout of Monday’s chapel service were “peaceful” and that there will be “no consequences to those students who left.”

On the contents of Rose’s chapel lecture, Craig said the speaker “addressed her pro-life beliefs and the founding of her pro-life business.”

“As followers of Jesus Christ, the goal of our Westmont College community is to learn how to live together with differences,” Craig said in Westmont’s official response to the incident. “In that spirit, we host a variety of guests to campus who express varying perspectives. [Monday’s] chapel and today’s lecture are examples of those community experiences and conversations. ‘Truth-centered attitudes’ and ‘other-centered actions’ remain our core commitments as our Community Life Statement articulates.”

[Updated: Feb. 9, 2023, 3:05pm] In response to the incident during her speech at Westmont, Rose said: “It is not hateful to disagree with a person or to speak against the harm they are committing against others. It is also a basic tenet of the Christian faith, from the Ten Commandments to Christ’s greatest commandment, that we are not supposed to kill innocent people. That we are called instead to sacrificially love our neighbor. Abortion is the direct and intentional killing of a human being and violates the fundamental human rights of the child it destroys.”

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