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Cost of violating First Amendment for OSU: $101,000

ADF settles attorneys’ fees, damages after winning lawsuit over student newspapers thrown on to trash heap

EUGENE, Ore. — Oregon State University has paid $101,000 in attorneys’ fees and damages in the wake of a lawsuit that Alliance Defending Freedom won on behalf of students in 2012. A document filed with a federal district court Wednesday ends the case in accord with a settlement agreement that resolves the remaining issues between the university and the students.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit concluded in October 2012 that OSU officials violated the constitutionally protected freedoms of an independent student newspaper, The Liberty, when they confiscated its bins and tossed them onto a trash heap. The university appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case last year.

“Universities should encourage the free exchange of ideas. When they instead choose to shut down constitutionally protected speech, it can be costly,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Heather Gebelin Hacker. “Students don’t deserve censorship for having viewpoints that university officials don’t prefer.”

“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,” added Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker. “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.”

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed the lawsuit, Oregon State University Students Alliance v. Ray, in 2009 on behalf of OSU Students Alliance, a recognized student organization that published The Liberty. Officials confiscated the independent student paper’s bins--which contained copies of the paper--without notice and threw them next to a dumpster. The university claimed it did so as part of an effort to beautify the campus, but it left untouched the numerous distribution bins of the other student newspaper, The Daily Barometer.

Months after the lawsuit was filed, the university changed its policy regarding the distribution of student publications. The change allowed The Liberty to resume its campus-wide distribution after being excluded from most of the campus for nearly a year; however, the university continued to argue that it had not violated the students’ constitutionally protected freedoms.

The 9th Circuit disagreed and said in its ruling that it had “little trouble finding constitutional violations” and that the university’s unwritten policy that led to trashing the newspaper’s bins “materialized like a bolt out of the blue.”


Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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