Oklahoma State University Settles With Anti-Choice Student Group Over On-Campus Displays


Officials for Oklahoma State University (OSU) and an anti-choice student group reached a settlement in a civil rights lawsuit alleging the school violated the group’s First Amendment rights when members were unable to display graphic anti-abortion imagery in high-traffic areas of campus and to hand out anti-abortion literature to those passing by.

Last year, Cowboys for Life, a student group represented by the conservative legal advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), sued OSU officials after the university denied its request to display and hand out anti-abortion materials prepared by the outside anti-choice advocacy group Justice for All near the OSU Student Union. According to the complaint, OSU’s policies regulating student speech gave administrators “unbridled discretion” to regulate student speech that quashed anti-choice student groups free speech rights. Among the allegations that administrators unfairly targeted anti-choice groups’ free speech rights were requests by the university that since the display proposed by Cowboys for Life included imagery of what were purported to be aborted fetuses, the display had a “buffer zone” around the display, including warning signs that images in the display were graphic and could offend some individuals. The plaintiffs also complained that other student groups did not have to post similar warnings, including the Sexual Orientation Diversity Association, which hosted a “coming out of the closet” event at the same time as Cowboys for Life’s proposed display.

The complaint also alleges that school officials attempted to pursue disciplinary charges against the students after they questioned why their proposed display was not approved of without condition by the university. 

According to reports by the Tulsa World, under the terms of the settlement, OSU and its officials deny any wrongdoing and do not admit to any of the allegations made by Cowboys for Life and ADF. In exchange, the university agreed to amend its Student Code of Conduct to change the manner in which the university handles student request in the future. Additionally, the university will pay ADF $25,000 in legal fees.

The OSU lawsuit is the latest in a string of similar suits dating as far back as 2003 filed by ADF on behalf of anti-choice student groups who want to bring Justice for All mentors and materials to campuses nationwide. So far, ADF has successfully brought similar suits against the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Houston, and Arizona State University. In each case, ADF argued that efforts to regulate anti-abortion student groups who wanted to display Justice for All’s materials was a violation of the First Amendment.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Follow Jessica Mason Pieklo on twitter: @hegemommy