Wednesday, April 2, 2014

University pitches student paper, pays $101,000 in fees and damages to student group.

Oregon State University [OSU] has paid $101,000 in attorneys’ fees and damages in the wake of a lawsuit that Alliance Defending Freedom won on behalf of students in 2012. A final document ending the case was filed with a federal district court Wednesday.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed the lawsuit in 2009 on behalf of OSU Students Alliance, a recognized student organization that published an independent student newspaper, The Liberty. Officials confiscated the paper’s bins--which contained copies of the paper--without notice and threw them next to a dumpster. The university claimed it did so as part of an effort to beautify the campus, but it left untouched the numerous distribution bins of the other student newspaper, The Daily Barometer.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit concluded in October 2012 that OSU officials violated the constitutionally protected freedoms of The Liberty when they confiscated its bins and tossed them onto a trash heap. The university appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case last year.

“Universities should encourage the free exchange of ideas. When they instead choose to shut down constitutionally protected speech, it can be costly,” said Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Heather Gebelin Hacker. “Students don’t deserve censorship for having viewpoints that university officials don’t prefer.”

Months after the lawsuit was filed, the university changed its policy regarding the distribution of student publications. The change allowed The Liberty to resume its campus-wide distribution after being excluded from most of the campus for nearly a year; however, the university continued to argue that it had not violated the students’ constitutionally protected freedoms.

The 9th Circuit disagreed and said in its ruling that it had “little trouble finding constitutional violations” and that the university’s unwritten policy that led to trashing the newspaper’s bins “materialized like a bolt out of the blue.”

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