Over at Phi Beta Cons, former FIRE President David French, recently back from a tour of duty in Iraq, reports that Georgia Tech has been ordered to pay $203,734.14 in attorneys’ fees and expenses for violating its students’ freedom of religion. Here’s how David describes the case in his blog entry:
In March 2006 two brave Georgia Tech students, Orit Sklar and Ruth Malhotra, launched a challenge to several unconstitutional policies at the school. These policies included a speech code, a restrictive speech zone, discriminatory student-fee regulations, and a program of state religious indoctrination called "Safe Space" that explicitly compared those who have traditional views of sexual morality to slaveowners.
I blogged about this case when it was first filed back in 2006, and am happy to gloat about the fact that my prediction at the time was accurate: "Georgia Tech is not above the Constitution. Since it apparently didn’t realize that before, the odds are good that it will be forced to do so now." Of course, anyone with a basic knowledge of the law and the facts of the case would have made the same prediction except, I suppose, for Georgia Tech’s administration and lawyers, who through their subpar knowledge of the law have now managed to soak students and taxpayers for more than 200 grand. Nice work, guys.
The whole blog entry, which contains more facts of the case as well as nauseating details about Georgia Tech’s conduct during the litigation, is well worth a read. But David sums it up well:
Unless Tech appeals this fee ruling, this litigation is finally at a close, and Orit and Ruth won. More precisely, the First Amendment won. Each and every student at Georgia Tech enjoys more liberty as a result of Orit and Ruth’s stand.
In a time of economic trouble, it is shameful to see universities spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in futile quests to defend blatantly unconstitutional policies. Do the people of Georgia really want to pay for oppression and double standards?
I know I wouldn’t. The sad fact, though, is that more often than not the censors at state universities are paying for their own poor judgment and dishonorable impulses with your money. FIRE is doing its part to change that by putting university presidents on notice that violating the First Amendment could cost them money out of their own pockets, but that will take some time. In the meantime, this large fee award should send two important messages: First, it tells college administrators and boards of trustees that if they violate the rights of their students, they should expect to pay for it. Second, it demonstrates to the lawyers out there who might otherwise not be able to afford to take First Amendment cases that they can win good cases on behalf of their clients and expect to be paid for their trouble.