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Pro-life students win free speech concessions from public university in legal settlement

Two-and-a-half years after it stopped a pro-life student group from erecting a temporary “Cemetery of Innocents” on school grounds, the University of South Alabama has settled a lawsuit over its restrictions on speech and alleged arbitrary enforcement against certain viewpoints.

The Alliance Defending Freedom said in a release today that the settlement, which includes a blacked-out financial payment to the alliance,

ensures that the university’s policies will be applied the same way to all student groups and prevents university officials from censoring pro-life speech based on its message.

The university’s Students for Life chapter was twice denied the right to set up its memorial to “lives lost due to abortions” in areas visible from off-campus. It claimed the university frequently approved other student groups’ requests to use the “grassy, park-like areas” on the edge of campus for their messages.

The lawsuit also said administrators gave themselves “the discretion to declare” when students were violating perimeter restrictions, because the exact boundaries were “unclear.”

RELATED: Pro-Life Students Could Be Punished Under Vague New ‘Solicitation’ Policy, Suit Says

The settlement appears to clamp down on this preferential treatment given to messages that don’t involve “political and social controversy,” as the lawsuit put it:

The parties agree that the Second Policy [implemented between the original and amended lawsuits] will not be interpreted to permit co-sponsored student organization events (i.e., student organization events co-sponsored by the University and University events co-sponsored by student organizations) in the restricted Perimeter areas. The parties acknowledge that the University has the discretion and may hereafter modify the Second Policy to permit these co-sponsored events in the restricted Perimeter areas as long as the criteria for co-sponsorship are viewpoint neutral and published on the University’s website.

The Students for Life chapter also got the right to put up “small directional signs” within 10 feet of roadways on days when it hosts campus events “when the majority of expected attendees are not members of the campus community,” the settlement reads.

The university expanded the grounds available to student speech to “the vast majority of campus” in response to the original April 2014 lawsuit.

RELATED: Vandals Deface, Throw Away Pro-Life Display at George Washington University

Universities “have too frequently become safe spaces to babysit kids who may be offended by a particular point of view,” said Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins in the release:

We are pleased that the University of South Alabama will now allow its students to hear different viewpoints instead of protecting them from real-world discourse.

Read the release and settlement.

RELATED: 3,000 pro-life crosses at Southern Methodist U. kicked down, plus threat to burn down display

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IMAGE: Richard Elzey/Flickr

 

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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