Oklahoma State University Settles With Student Group Over Anti-Abortion Display, Will Change Code Of Conduct

March 5, 2014

by Laura Jones at The Global Dispatch 

Oklahoma State University settled a civil rights lawsuit waged last year by Cowboys for Life, a pro-life student group. The agreement will require the public college to pay legal fees to the campus group’s lawyers and officially amend the school’s code of conduct.

The battle with Cowboys for Life began in the summer of 2012 as their display space near the school’s Student Union was restricted. They’d be unable to show photos depicting aborted fetuses in the high-traffic campus location, according to a press release.

University officials dictated that they move to a less populated area and post warning signs along with the graphic abortion images. Students were outraged, but other groups were restricted – most notably, Sexual Orientation Diversity Association.

“OSU needs to learn that it does not have free reign to censor its students,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Travis Barham said when the lawsuit was filed last year. “It can’t exile displays to remote areas of campus, or restrict students from distributing literature just because the hyper-sensitive feelings of a university administrator got ruffled.”

The university agreed to pay $25,000 to the ADF without admitting any fault or acknowledging the claims were valid.

Tulsa World reported that the student code of conduct will be amended to say that students no longer need school officials’ permission before engaging in the “peaceful distribution of literature, oral communication and display of signs.”

“What they’ve done [in the new policies] is made it explicit that OSU cannot consider the viewpoint of the organization nor can they consider the content of the message the student organization wishes to convey,” Will Creeley, director of Legal and Public Advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights, told Tulsa World. “The precedent has been clear for decades that students at public universities enjoy full First Amendment rights.”