Lawyers for Alliance Defending Freedom have announced a settlement of a dispute over free speech restrictions at Chemeketa Community College in Oregon that prevented a Students for Life (SFL) group from speaking about pro-life issues on campus.
Members of SFL wanted to bring a pro-life speaker to campus to talk to interested students about the dangers of physician-assisted suicide, and to advertise the event by handing out fliers on campus ahead of time. Unfortunately, the school’s rules creating two small “speech zones” comprising only about 1.5% of the campus’ 100 acres, and a requirement that the group obtain permission to speak and hand out fliers two weeks in advance, prevented them from successfully promoting the event.
To make matters worse, the rules required SFL to estimate and pay for any school security needs should there be any violence, including from counter-protestors attempting to drown out SFL’s message.
SFL filed a federal lawsuit in May 2020 alleging First Amendment violations by the state-run school.
The school has agreed to change its policies to remove the “speech zone” and two-week notice requirements and will also pay $25,000 to compensate the student club for its attorneys’ fees.
“The only permit students need to speak on campus is the First Amendment,” said ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross in a statement explaining the settlement. “Chemeketa Community College’s previous policy placed a restriction on these fundamental freedoms by confining students to so-called ‘speech zones’ and requiring reservations weeks in advance. Thankfully, Chemeketa has agreed to revise these unconstitutional policies and help ensure that all students can engage in free expression on campus.”
Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins celebrated the settlement.
“Across the nation, we are seeing incredible opposition to the pro-life speech of our student leaders and volunteers as they speak for the defenseless and educate their fellow students on abortion,” Hawkins said in the ADF statement. “But the law and the Constitution are clear on the matter: Public schools cannot silence pro-life groups or force them to self-censor. We are thankful that Chemeketa Community College clarified that Students for Life—and all students—can participate in the open exchange of ideas and ensure that the entire college community is a ‘free speech zone’ for pro-life students and their peers.”
SFL and ADF have voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit as part of the settlement.
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