Student Newspaper 'Liberty' Wins First Amendment Victory over Oregon State

Oregon State University, disdaining responsibility for trashing distribution boxes that were intended for a politically conservative student newspaper, has still paid $1,000 plus $100,000 in legal fees after a former student, William Rogers, filed suit against them. 

The lawsuit, filed in 2009 by supporters of the newspaper The Liberty, contended that the university president and other school officials permitted the official campus newspaper access to distribution bins, but school officials removed the bins for The Liberty. The suit alleged that school officials confiscated distribution bins for The Liberty and tossed them onto a trash heap. The bins, which contained copies of the paper, were allegedly removed without notice and thrown next to a dumpster.

The ostensible reason for the removal of the bins, according to lower-ranking campus officials, was to make the campus more attractive, but strangely, the campus paper’s bins were not removed. Higher-ranking school officials claimed they had not ordered the removal of The Liberty's boxes.

The initial lawsuit was dismissed by a U.S. District Court judge, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled that decision, remarking that the court had “little trouble finding constitutional violations” and that the university's policy which catalyzed the removal of The Liberty’s boxes "materialized like a bolt out of the blue." 

After the initial filing of the lawsuit by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the university waited months before it changed its policies so approved student groups could distribute their newspapers on the site of the campus.

David Hacker, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said:

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.

The Liberty and Rogers, the paper's executive editor, stopped publishing the paper after the trashing of their bins in 2009.


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