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Univ. of Md. to change speech code, speech zone policies

ADF attorneys filed suit on behalf of student organization

BALTIMORE — University of Maryland-Baltimore County officials agreed Friday to modify their unconstitutional “speech code” and “speech zone” policies that restricted a pro-life student group from sharing its message on campus.  Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom filed a lawsuit April 2 on behalf of Rock for Life students against the university after it forced the group to move its pro-life display to less visible locations.

“Pro-life students at the University of Maryland shouldn’t suffer discrimination for their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Steven H. Aden.  “We are encouraged by the university’s decision to change its speech policies so that the constitutional rights of its students will be respected.”

After UMBC student Alexander Vernet reserved space for the Rock for Life club’s “Genocide Awareness Project” to be displayed in front of the University Center on April 30, 2007, the university’s Office of Student Life rescinded its permission and made the group move the display numerous times.  Once the students relocated the display from the high-visibility University Center to the lower-trafficked Commons building patio area, university officials, backed by campus police, ordered them to move the display to a large vacant field behind the Commons, where even fewer students pass by.

The university says it will remove unconstitutional policy provisions prohibiting “emotional harassment” and “intimidation.”  The university also agreed to amend its speech zone policy—eliminating the unlimited power it previously had over student events—and will provide safeguards for First Amendment expression.

Rock for Life plaintiffs will go forward to trial to ensure that the university changes the section of its speech code that unconstitutionally infringes on free speech.  In addition, the lawsuit, Rock for Life v. Hrabowski, will continue to seek an injunction against the university’s sexual harassment policy, which has also been used to unconstitutionally silence student speech.

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom defends religious freedom at America’s public universities.  ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith.  Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.