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Public university drops policy banning ‘annoyance’ to settle lawsuit by pro-life students

School claims it never required ‘trigger warnings’ for pro-life signs

After the Students for Life chapter at Miami University of Ohio sued the public institution for requiring them to post “trigger warnings” for an abortion memorial, the administration was baffled.

According to a settlement filed Thursday, the school sent a letter to the students’ lawyers the day after the suit was filed “expressing surprise that officials at the Hamilton campus had told Plaintiffs that warning signs were required.”

While the university agreed to change two allegedly unconstitutional policies to resolve the suit, the settlement confusingly says the “Policy for Campus Exhibits” – in effect when the students were told to post trigger warnings – “is not the policy of Miami University of Ohio (including its regional campuses) and will not be adopted as a policy.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the students, nonetheless celebrated the settlement as a victory in a Friday statement:

“We commend the university for quickly recognizing that its officials do not have the authority to censor student speech simply because of how someone might respond to it,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham.

The settlement requires the university to announce the settlement on its website and apparently nullifies the Policy for Campus Exhibits, though the wording suggests the announcement doesn’t have to be posted on a public page (“accessible to its faculty, staff, and students”).

It will also revise an expression policy to make clear that its obligation to protect students “who do not choose to participate in a demonstration,” such as the abortion memorial, “does not authorize the University to infringe upon the rights of students and student organizations to hold and express disparate beliefs.”

Miami University of Ohio will change its definition of “disorderly conduct” to remove expression that “causes alarm, annoyance, or nuisance,” as well. The changes won’t go through until July, however. It’s paying the Students for Life $200 in damages and more than $22,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to the alliance.

The university told the alliance the day after the suit was filed that the demand to post “trigger warning” signs “was contrary to the policies and values” of the university, and apologized “for the mistake that was made” by Hamilton campus officials.

The official who required the signs for last year’s “Cemetery of the Innocents,” Caitlin Borges, said they were needed to prevent the “emotional trauma” of students coming across the field of white crosses and help them “better protect and manage their emotional reactions,” according to the suit.

She also offered to help the club brainstorm ways to promote its mission “that may be less harmful” for those in the community.

The settlement doesn’t make clear what is actually happening to the Policy on Campus Exhibits. The other two provisions explicitly say the university “shall revise” them. In its Friday statement, the alliance said the administration has “disavowed” the policy.

The alliance did not immediately respond to a request for clarification from The College Fix.

Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins said in an email blast Friday:

This is a victory for the free speech rights of students, who should not be told that their support of mothers and their preborn children is some kind of shameful act that should be apologized for or vilified as harmful.

Read the settlement and alliance statement.

MORE: Pro-life students sue for requiring ‘trigger warnings’ on abortion memorial

IMAGE: Richard Elzey/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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