University pays $10k to settle free speech lawsuit

Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville has settled a lawsuit with the College Republicans, agreeing to pay the group’s attorney fees and revise its unconstitutional speech policies.

According to NBC affiliate KSDK, the university will pay $10,000 for attorney fees and has already eliminated its speech zone after the College Republicans, with help from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), challenged the constitutionality of the school’s free speech policy in October.

SIUE maintains, however, that it only agreed to the settlement in order to avoid “the much great cost of protracted federal litigation.”

[RELATED: Cops tell activists their ‘free speech ball’ ‘scared’ students]

“The University is pleased to reach an agreement, but some clarity is necessary regarding the University’s policies and procedures,” the university said in a statement provided to KSDK. “SIUE has always supported the notion that every student should be able to speak freely and peacefully, regardless of their political viewpoint and without fear of being punished.”

The university also added that it is “constantly reviewing and modifying its policies and procedures, and would have been happy to talk with the College Republicans, the Alliance Defending Freedom, or others, had they brought their concerns to our attention prior to filing the lawsuit.”

According to the lawsuit, the university restricted its free speech zone to “less than 0.0013% of the entire SIUE campus” and did not “provide any alternative locations for student speech outside the Speech Zone.”

“Defendants’ Speech Policies and their practice of limiting students’ and student organizations’ expressive activities to a single Speech Zone at SIUE facially violates the First Amendment because it prohibits students and student organizations from engaging in speech in public areas of the campus other than the limited area of the Speech Zone,” the lawsuit argued.

As previously reported by Campus Reform, conservative students at the university were confronted in September by a campus police officer, who told them that their free speech ball was “scaring” classmates and that they had failed to secure the proper permission to hold the demonstration.

[RELATED: GVSU settles with conservatives, gives up ‘speech zones’]

When the students objected that they were simply exercising their First Amendment right to express themselves in a public place, the officer rejected their contention, arguing that the state university campus is not public.

“This is not considered like a public place. Right now, we’re going to have to put the ball away,” one officer told the student activists at the time, further noting that the ball “is freaking a lot of people out.”

Despite settling the suit, however, SIUE continues to dispute the students’ primary allegations, insisting that it has never restricted student speech to a free speech zone nor required a permit or other form of administrative approval for free speech.

“SIUE has not limited student free speech activities to less than one percent of the SIUE campus and has demonstrated that fact many times,” the school’s statement declared, adding that “SIUE did not agree to pay damages, because there were none.”

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