When William Rogers was the executive editor of a conservative student newspaper called The Liberty in 2009, he sued Oregon State University for illegally confiscating the paper’s distribution boxes. The suit alleged that school officials threw the bins onto a trash pile located next to a dumpster without any prior notification.
Lower-ranking campus officials claimed to have removed The Liberty’s distribution bins as part of a campus beautification project, but similar boxes for the Barometer, Oregon State’s other campus paper, were left untouched. Top officials at the school stated that they did not order the destruction.
A U.S. District Court judge dismissed the suit, but the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later took up the case on appeal. The circuit court ruled that it had “little trouble finding constitutional violations.” As part of a settlement, Oregon State agreed to pay $1,000 plus $100,000 in legal fees to Rogers.
According to Fox News:
The Oregonian reported that the university did not acknowledge wrongdoing but agreed to the six-figure payout to William Rogers to end the lawsuit, which was dismissed Wednesday. Months after the lawsuit was filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal firm specializing in religious liberty cases, the university changed its policies to allow approved student groups that publish newspapers to distribute them on campus.
“We hope this case will encourage public officials everywhere to respect the freedom of students to engage in the marketplace of ideas that a public university is supposed to be,” said David Hacker, an ADF attorney. “The university has done the right thing, not only through changing their unconstitutional policy, but also by compensating the students for the violation of their First Amendment freedoms.”
Students from many liberal arts colleges and universities have reported similar examples of viewpoint discrimination. We can only hope that they will learn a lesson from Oregon State’s mistake.