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State higher education board says college must protect free speech

By The Associated Press
02.08.07

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island College suffered a setback yesterday in its effort to fight a lawsuit brought by abortion-rights advocates when the state's higher education board said the school cannot claim it isn't legally obligated to protect free-speech rights.

Attorneys for Rhode Island College recently asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Women's Studies Organization after the school made members of the group remove signs on campus that said "Keep Your Rosaries Off Our Ovaries."

The college argued it doesn't have to guarantee students First Amendment rights to free speech because the school is not a government agency.

But the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education shot down that defense yesterday.

Associate Commissioner Steven Maurano said the board of governors believes the school is a government agency and does have an obligation to protect free-speech rights.

Civil libertarians said the school would now have to find some other way to fight the lawsuit.

"We were puzzled as to how the college could make such a far-reaching argument," said Steve Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union.

Jane Fusco, a college spokeswoman, said in a statement yesterday that attorneys for the school will "provide more details in a new filing at a later date."

The women's organization sued the public college in December over the signs, which had been placed a year earlier near a campus entrance and were intended to coincide with a day of women's rights activism.

The college president ordered campus police to take down the signs after being alerted to them by a priest on his way to Mass.

The college says it generally prohibits signs in the area of campus where the students had placed them. School officials also told the students they were free to display the signs elsewhere.


Update
R.I. College to pay $5,000 to settle sign lawsuit
ACLU had filed suit on behalf of women's group that claimed campus police violated members' free speech by removing placards that said 'Keep your rosaries off our ovaries.' 09.26.07

Previous
Women's group claims free speech violated when signs removed
Federal lawsuit claims Rhode Island College president ordered campus police to take down placards that read 'Keep Your Rosaries Off Our Ovaries.' 12.06.06

Related

Georgia Tech retracts policy banning offensive speech

University reaches partial settlement in lawsuit filed by two students who claim rule aimed at protecting campus from intolerance has 'chilling effect.' 08.17.06

Abortion protesters topple Ill. city's sign limits
Federal judge strikes down ordinance, following up on last year's ruling that couple were likely to succeed in claim that such limits amounted to 'heckler's veto.' 05.24.07

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