Oregon State University must pay $101,000 in legal fees and damages to a former editor of the school’s alternative paper, The Liberty, and the organization that represented him, the Alliance Defending Freedom.
School officials claimed that the newspaper’s bins were removed to beautify the campus and help move traffic along, reports Betsy Hammond of orgeonlive.com. However, the university funded newspaper’s bins remained untouched. The Liberty’s distribution bins disappeared without notice from university officials and were found in a trash heap.
The lawsuit, filed against the university’s then President Dr. Edward J. Ray, claims that the tossing of the alternative papers distribution bins while leaving the mainstream, university paid for newspaper’s bins untouched, is a blatant violation of the First Amendment freedom of speech right, according to an article by Rex Santus of SPLC.com. The alternative paper was known for openly criticizing the running of the university and its officials. Daniel Hacker, who was a lawyer on the team defending the alternative paper, stated:
“Theft and destruction and defacement of independent student newspapers is a widespread problem across the country. I think the case is an important lesson to public universities, showing them that they need to protect students’ right to speak freely, and that includes the rights of student newspapers.”
Oregeon State University, however, is admitting to nothing. They claim that top officials, including Ray, knew nothing about the distribution bins being moved or thrown away, nor was it done on their orders, writes Kaitlyn Schallhorn of campusreform.org.
However, when The Liberty’s former editor William Rogers asked the college officials about what happened to the bins when he noticed they were missing, he was informed that the placement of the distribution bins violated an unwritten Oregon State University policy and were taken away to aesthetically improve the campus.
Fox News reports that originally, a lower district court dismissed the case because Rogers could not prove that named officials were in charge of the distribution bins’ disappearance. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, disagreed and reversed that dismissal, saying that the college’s enforcement of “an unwritten and previously unenforced policy governing news bins on campus” allowed William Rogers a trial.
The university has since more clearly defined and written down its policy concerning the placement of newspapers’ distribution bins. Steve Clark, a spokesman for the university, stated.
“We’re glad this is in the past,” Clark said. “We have policies that are more clear and articulated to these kinds of procedures. We’re disappointed that members of our staff removed those boxes and stored them in a field.”
Hacker, however, disagrees that the removal of only the alternative newspaper’s distribution bins was accidental. He insists that it was an act of censorship and a violation of the students’ freedom of speech. In Betsy Hammond’s article, Hacker is quoted as saying:
“We hope this case will encourage public officials everywhere to respect the freedom of students to engage in the marketplace of ideas that a public university is supposed to be. The university has done the right thing, not only through changing their unconstitutional policy, but also by compensating the students for the violation of their First Amendment freedoms.”