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Oregon State Pays Hefty Price for Censorship via Newspaper Theft

Torch readers may remember the case of Oregon State University Student Alliance v. Ray, in which Oregon State University (OSU) tried to stop distribution of the student newspaper the Liberty by confiscating (okay, trashing; see above) its news bins and citing an unwritten policy to block new news bins back in 2009.

In 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that these attempts by the university to push the newspaper off campus while allowing a different campus newspaper to be distributed violated students’ First Amendment rights. The federal appellate court also held that because top university administrators knew about their subordinate employees’ actions and did nothing to stop the censorship, they were properly named as defendants in the suit. In October 2013, the Supreme Court denied OSU’s petition for certiorari, letting the Ninth Circuit’s decision stand. The case was remanded to the district court, and finally on Wednesday OSU agreed to pay $101,000 to settle the case, while admitting no wrongdoing.

The plaintiff’s counsel, former FIRE legal intern and current Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorney Heather Gebelin Hacker, praised the result as a victory for free speech and aptly noted that “[u]niversities should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas.”

The case should serve as a warning to university administrators, and OSU’s subsequent progress in respecting free speech should serve as an inspiration to other colleges and universities:

“We hope the high price tag of this settlement will serve to discourage other colleges from following the same indefensible course that OSU did in 2009,” Robert Shibley, Vice President of [FIRE] told Campus Reform. “Thankfully, since this incident, Oregon State has eliminated all unconstitutional restrictions on speech and is one of only 18 schools in the nation that gets a ‘green light’ from FIRE for protecting student speech in its written policies.”

Check out our previous coverage for more details on the case, the Ninth Circuit’s important ruling in 2012, and more case documents on ADF’s website.

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