Oklahoma State University has decided to settle a civil rights lawsuit waged last year by Cowboys for Life, a pro-life student group. The agreement will require the public college to pay legal fees to the campus group’s lawyers and officially amend the school’s code of conduct.
The case began in July 2012 when Cowboys for Life members requested display space near the university’s Student Union, but were reportedly told they’d be unable to show photos depicting aborted fetuses in the high-traffic campus location, according to a press release.
Rather than grant the requested display space, the conservative legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom reported that the students were relegated to a less populated area and told to post warning signs along with the images.
Club members said that none of the other groups — including the Sexual Orientation Diversity Association — were required to follow the same protocol, Oklahoma’s Tulsa World reported.
With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, Cowboys for Life found local legal representation and subsequently sued Oklahoma State University officials, alleging that members’ First Amendment rights had been violated.
“OSU needs to learn that it does not have free reign to censor its students,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Travis Barham said when the lawsuit was filed last year. “It can’t exile displays to remote areas of campus, or restrict students from distributing literature just because the hyper-sensitive feelings of a university administrator got ruffled.”
In settling the complaint, the university agreed to pay $25,000 to Alliance Defending Freedom, though officials reportedly did not admit fault, nor did they acknowledge whether Cowboys for Life’s claims were valid.
Additionally, Tulsa World reported that the student code of conduct will be amended to say that students no longer need school officials’ permission before engaging in the “peaceful distribution of literature, oral communication and display of signs.”
“What they’ve done [in the new policies] is made it explicit that OSU cannot consider the viewpoint of the organization nor can they consider the content of the message the student organization wishes to convey,” Will Creeley, director of Legal and Public Advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights, told Tulsa World. “The precedent has been clear for decades that students at public universities enjoy full First Amendment rights.”
University representative Gary Shutt told TheBlaze in an email: “The settlement speaks for itself; we are pleased to have the matter resolved.”
(H/T: Tulsa World)