NORMAN, Okla. — The University of Oklahoma has changed its policy on how student organizations are funded after two students claimed the school discriminated against them by refusing to fund their religious newspaper.
Ricky Thomas and James Wickett filed a lawsuit in federal court last February claiming the university restricted their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, religion, association and the press and violated their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection by denying funding for their Christian newspaper, Beacon OU.
Beacon OU received $150 in funding while another student newspaper, The Undercurrent, was allocated $4,750.
As part of a settlement of the lawsuit, the school paid the students $2,500 and agreed to remove wording from the University of Oklahoma Student Association Account Handbook prohibiting association money from be used to fund "religious services of any
"The main thing was getting those laws changed so they can't discriminate," Wickett said. "We're pretty happy."
Joseph Harroz, the university's legal counsel, said the school's policy did not reflect the current law established in the 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Rosenberger v. University of Virginia. The Supreme Court ruled that the University of Virginia was wrong to deny funding to a student-run, Christian publication.
"That was a huge shift in thinking on the separation of church and state and freedom of speech," Harroz said.
Stephen Cale, attorney for Thomas and Wickett, said the Supreme Court ruling was important in reaching the settlement.
"We really had the law on our side," Cale said. "There was no need to do any battle in court."
Harroz said the university agreed the policy needed to be changed and fixed it as quickly as possible.
"By the time this came to the administration's attention, it was clear the policy used and the student guidelines needed to be modified," Harroz said.