Pro-life group sues school for mandating 'trigger warnings'
A Cemetery of the Innocents display at Northern Kentucky University earlier this year.
A pro-life group filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Miami University of Ohio, claiming the school unconstitutionally required them to post trigger warnings before erecting a display on campus.
Students for Life of Miami University of Ohio, Hamilton regularly sets up its Cemetery of the Innocents display on the campus’ Central Quad, erecting small crosses to represent the number of lives lost to abortion since the passage of Roe v. Wade.
"The First Amendment...prohibits university officials from imposing trigger warnings that restrict what some students can say to spare the feelings of others."
But in October, when Students for Life President Ellen Wittman contacted the university to schedule the routine event, she was informed that this time, the group would have to post signs on campus beforehand notifying the community of the impending display.
A university official told Wittman she feared the display would cause “emotional trauma,” offering to meet with the group to discuss “less harmful” ways of expressing its views.
Students for Life, however, argued that the administration was presenting unnecessary obstacles to erecting the display in an effort to stymie controversy.
Since the incident, the Alliance Defending Freedom has sued the university on behalf of Students for Life, claiming school policy effectively allows the administration to place a “trigger warning” on the pro-life club.
“No university official has the authority to censor student speech simply because of how someone might respond to it,” ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham said in a press release. “The First Amendment secures the freedom of all students to participate in the marketplace of ideas, and it prohibits university officials from imposing trigger warnings that restrict what some students can say to spare the feelings of others.”
Similarly, ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox noted that “today’s university students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, university presidents, and votes,” and “that’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students.”
“It should disturb everyone that Miami University of Ohio and many other universities are communicating to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter,” he added.
The lawsuit itself argues that the university’s authority allows administrators to “deny permits for any reason, including unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, and to control the message students convey by imposing conditions on approving these permits.”
Director of University News and Communications Claire Wagner, however, told Campus Reform that the lawsuit is an “unfortunate misunderstanding,” but pledged that “if mistakes were made, they will be addressed.”
“All Miami University students and student organizations have First Amendment rights to free speech,” she confirmed. “As a result, the university does not approve or disapprove of any student organization’s display based on content or subject matter. Miami University does not require trigger warnings.”
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