Oklahoma State University to pay $25,000 settlement to pro-life students over free speech lawsuit

Cowboys for Life argues that it was singled out because of its pro-life message.
Mon Mar 3, 2014 - 1:19 pm EST

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK, March 3, 2014 ( – Oklahoma State University has agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing the public university of denying pro-life students their First Amendment rights.

The group Cowboys for Life asked the university for permission to erect a pro-life display in a highly trafficked area of campus in October 2012. The university turned them down, allegedly because attracting students to walk through the grass to the display would damage “the declining condition” of the school's lawns. But Cowboys for Life pointed out that the school had approved other displays in the same area.

University officials later permitted a smaller display featuring photos of abortion victims, but OSU Director of Campus Life Kent Sampson said the group had to erect signs 30 feet on either side warning of “graphic” content. They did not require that of the Sexual Orientation Diversity Association's pro-LGBT event.


The campus has no policy regarding “graphic images.”

The students also say the university stopped the group from distributing leaflets to passers-by.

With the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom, CFL filed a lawsuit in federal court on January 25, Cowboys for Life v. Sampson. The lawsuit would have struck down two campus policies preventing students from presenting their views and requested $10,000 in damages.

“A state actor can’t decide which speech they favor and which they don’t favor,” the students' lawyer, Brently Olsson, told The Daily O'Collegian. “That is patently un-American.”

Instead, OSU will pay $25,000 in legal damages in the settlement, which allows the university to avoid admitting guilt.

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Officials also changed the permit policy, stripping the Department of Campus Life of its oversight.

"What they've done 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 of the free speech watchdog group the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) told local media.

  academia, alliance defending freedom adf, free speech, oklahoma

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