The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal in a college free speech case that pitted a conservative newspaper against school administrators at Oregon State University (OSU), letting a lower court’s ruling stand. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that university officials violated the independent paper’s constitutionally protected freedoms when they confiscated and destroyed its distribution bins.
“Universities should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” said Heather Gebelin Hacker, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the newspaper. “Students don’t deserve censorship for having viewpoints that university officials don’t prefer. As the 9th Circuit concluded, university officials clearly violated the students’ constitutional freedoms. The Supreme Court’s decision to let that ruling stand is a victory for constitutionally protected free speech.”
The ruling sets an important precedent for independent student newspapers, protecting their freedom of speech regardless of what school officials think of their opinions or views. An earlier ruling suggested the case involved “viewpoint discrimination” because of the unprecedented and specific nature of the free-speech violation.
The OSU Student Alliance, the registered student organization that publishes The Liberty, and Executive Editor William Rogers filed suit after the school scooped up several of its distribution boxes and dumped them on the trash heap. The students attempted to negotiate with school administrators for equal access to campus for several months. School administrators argued that The Liberty was an “off-campus” periodical because the university did not fund it, and said it was removed for “logistical reasons.” But the school left the distribution bins of other publications in place, and administrators admitted they had no written policy to support their decision.