In Oklahoma, Cowboys for Life Rustle Up Resistance to University Censorship
- By Alan Sears
- Posted Feb 12, 2013
- No Comments »
If you have any illusions about how the free speech rights of your children and grandchildren are being trampled on college and university campuses nationwide, you need only follow events at one of our largest western tax-payer-funded schools, where efforts to rein in pro-life expression have brought on a legal showdown at this OK corral campus.
For at least three months, Cowboys for Life – a student group at Oklahoma State University (OSU) – tried to reserve space for some pro-life displays in the busy, open areas near the Student Union. The displays, using materials from Justice for All, are designed as “conversation starters” and present a variety of aspects of the pro-life position.
OSU officials, though, refused the Cowboys’ requests, saying the displays may offend some people. They instead banished the group’s exhibit to a less-traveled area of campus where fewer people would see it and added the requirement that the students would have to post warning signs about their display. Other groups—including one holding a “coming out of the closet” event—have used the locations Cowboys for Life wanted without having to put up warning signs. So it seems clear that administrators have a particular interest in stigmatizing and marginalizing the pro-life message.
Undaunted, the Cowboys for Life finally decided to hand out literature to interested students near the Student Union while carrying a hand-held sign – only to have even those efforts, too, hogtied by administrators, who again insisted that the students post warning signs about what they were doing. (Maybe something like, “Danger: Free Speech Underway?”) What’s more, the officials then spurred an investigation designed to prove that the students had violated the Student Code of Conduct … simply by quietly, respectfully expressing their beliefs and attempting to go through the proper channels to set up a public display.
At this point, the students enlisted the help of Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, who have now filed a federal lawsuit against the university.
“Universities should promote, not quarantine, the free exchange of ideas,” says Litigation Staff Counsel Travis Barham. “OSU does not have free reign to censor students. The university can’t exile this club’s displays or restrict students from distributing literature simply because their materials challenge a narrow orthodoxy or offend the hyper-sensitive feelings of administrators.”
“The First Amendment exists to protect our freedom to share ideas freely and to prevent the government from suppressing speech it deems ‘unacceptable,’” Barham adds. “Universities are supposed to be ‘marketplaces of ideas’ where all ideas – not just those favored by university officials – are welcomed and vigorously debated. OSU has no business breaking the law and stifling pro-life expression on campus as it did to Cowboys for Life.”
This is an opportunity to build on some crucial precedents – victories God has given us for other pro-life student groups seeking to use Justice for All materials on their campuses at University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Houston, and Arizona State University – all made possible through your prayers and support.
Brently C. Olsson of the Oklahoma City law firm Helms & Greene, LLC, one of nearly 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, is local counsel in this OSU case. Please be in prayer for Mr. Olsson and for all of our attorneys and allies nationwide as they re-stake what should be the rightful claim of every citizen, young or old, in America: the right to speak the truth freely in the public square, regardless of whose feelings get ruffled.
Author: Alan Sears