Sinclair settles suit over sign

March 12, 2013

Sinclair Community College has settled a lawsuit that challenged the school’s former policy effectively banning protest signs and distributing leaflets at campus rallies.

The lawsuit, filed in part by two students, claimed Sinclair violated the First Amendment rights of protesters when campus police ordered them to put down their signs at a June 8 “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally sponsored by the Sinclair Traditional Values Club. Sinclair has since revised its campus access policy.

Under the settlement agreement, Sinclair will pay $9,681 to cover the plaintiffs’ costs and attorneys’ fees. The college also promised not to revert to its old policy, according to the agreement.

“Sinclair College has enacted policies that promote both the safety of our students, faculty and staff and also preserve their rights to freedom of speech,” said spokesman Adam Murka. “We engaged in a thoughtful and deliberate process to create the new policy and are pleased that this matter is now concluded.”

The case brought Sinclair into the national spotlight and drew criticism and calls for action from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE. President Greg Lukianoff called the ban on signs “an insult to our liberties.”

“This settlement should send a clear message to colleges in Ohio and across the nation that unconstitutional speech codes aren’t worth defending,” he said in a news release.

“We’re glad that Sinclair Community College and the State of Ohio realized that continuing to defend a ban on signs would not just fly in the face of the First Amendment, but would also be a profound waste of taxpayer money,” said Robert Shibley, FIRE’s senior vice president.

The suit originally sought a permanent injunction to stop the college from restricting students’ activities, nominal damages and expenses incurred during the legal proceedings. It was brought by students Ruth Deddens and Ethel Borel-Donohue and the speaker from the rally, Bryan Kemper.

Deddens, an original club member and noted anti-abortion activist, attends Sinclair through the Lifetime Learning program. Borel-Donohue is also a club founder and was enrolled in the paralegal program part-time after working as a high school teacher and raising three children. Kemper is the founder of two faith-based organizations, Rock of Life and Stand True Pro-Life Outreach.

Deddens said she is satisfied by the outcome of the case, which was led by attorney Christopher Finney.

“I think it is a lesson to be learned, that there are a lot of people who are willing to stand up for freedom,” she said.

Schools: Sinclair Community College Cases: Sinclair Community College: Police Ban Signs at Religious Freedom Rally