Boise State settles free-speech suit with anti-abortion student group

Amy R. Connolly
The Boise State University campus. Photo by Carrie Quinney/ Boise State University
The Boise State University campus. Photo by Carrie Quinney/ Boise State University

BOISE, Idaho, June 4 (UPI) -- Boise State University revised its policy for campus demonstrations to allow "controversial" events without warning signs, settling a lawsuit with the anti-abortion student group Abolitionists4Life.

The suit stems from the university's requirement that the group post warnings on images of abortion displayed during events.


Abolitionists4Life organizers argued the restriction violated their right to free speech, especially since other groups, including Planned Parenthood, were allowed to host events on campus without warning signs. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group, sued the university last year, claiming the anti-abortion group was unfairly targeted by restricting where it could distribute fliers and that members' constitutional rights were violated.

The university will also pay Abolitionists4Life $20,000 -- $100 for damages and the rest for legal fees.

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"We commend Boise State University for acknowledging this by revising its speech policy so that students can speak more freely throughout campus without fear of punishment," ADF senior legal counsel David Hacker said. "Universities cannot function as marketplaces of ideas if free speech requires a warning sign or is otherwise severely limited on campus."

In April and May 2014, Abolitionists4Life hosted events, "Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust" and "What Has Roe Done for Us?" A university official said the group needed warning signs for events involving "controversial issues, specifically graphic pictures," and the events would not have been approved if the university knew there would be no warning signs. The school also prohibited the group from distributing fliers outside pre-approved "speech zones." Other groups had no such restrictions.

As part of the settlement, the university now requires signs that read, "Public display ahead; viewer discretion advised," in all open spaces reserved for events or require no signs at all.

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"Pro-life students should not be discriminated against or censored because university officials do not agree with their viewpoints," said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, which works with Abolitionists4Life. "Pro-life students have every right to host events on campus as do any other student. Universities are supposed to be beacons of free speech and tolerance, not discriminatory havens of censorship where the only views tolerated are those of liberal administrators."

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