University scraps 'trigger warnings' for pro-life displays

Miami University (Ohio) recently settled a lawsuit with Students for Life of America (SFLA) by agreeing to eliminate mandatory “trigger warnings” for pro-life speech on campus. 

Campus Reform previously reported in December that the university had required the pro-life group to post a “warning” in front of its Cemetery of the Innocents display of 300 crosses, each cross representing 1,000 babies aborted that year.

At the time, a university official expressed concerns to the SFL chapter’s president that the event could cause “emotional trauma” for some students, even suggesting that the group consider “less harmful” ways of communicating its message.

[RELATED: Cornell students protest pro-life views as ‘traumatizing’] 

As a result, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit against the university on SFLA’s behalf, asking the court to revise the university’s policies and require the school to recognize the group’s First Amendment rights.

Under the terms of the settlement, which SFLA announced in a press release Friday, the university agreed to abandon or revise multiple policies, including the one used to impose mandatory trigger warning on displays and another that ADF argued gave university officials the authority to restrict speech “simply because it could ‘cause alarm, annoyance, or nuisance.’” 

Additionally, the university has agreed to pay SFLA’s damages and attorneys’ fees totaling $22,389, including court costs.

“This is a victory for the free speech rights of students, who should not be told that their support of mothers and their preborn children is some kind of shameful act that should be apologized for or vilified as harmful,” SFLA President Kristan Hawkins remarked. “We appreciate the work of Alliance Defending Freedom, and especially love the commitment of our student leaders who courageously advocate for life, no matter the obstacles.”

ADF also praised the settlement, noting that the university will now be required to recognize the free speech rights of pro-life students on campus.

[RELATED: Pro-choice group says pro-lifers provoke ‘pain and stigma’] 

“We commend the university for quickly recognizing that its officials do not have the authority to censor student speech simply because of how someone might respond to it,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham.

“By revising its policies to respect students’ constitutionally protected rights, the university has fostered the marketplace of ideas that public universities are supposed to be,” he continued. “After all, the only permission slip students need to speak on campus is the First Amendment, and they cannot be forced to post ‘trigger warning’ signs simply to share their ideas.”

UPDATE: Claire Wagner, director of University News and Communications, provided the following statement to Campus Reform regarding the settlement:

”This was a case of an unfortunate misunderstanding at Miami University’s Hamilton campus.  All Miami University students and student organizations have First Amendment rights to free speech. 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.

Our values dictate that we protect the rights of our students and student organizations to hold and express disparate beliefs and we encourage the discussion and learning that comes from sharing our differences. 

Further, while a Policy for Campus Exhibits was provided to the student organization, such a policy does not exist and that policy will not become a university policy.”

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