June 3, 2015 / 11:51 PM / 4 years ago

Idaho college no longer requires warning for contentious protests

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Boise State University has revised its policies for campus protests to end a lawsuit alleging it violated free-speech rights by requiring an anti-abortion group to post warning signs about graphic pictures, a lawyer in the case said on Wednesday.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal organization, last year sued Boise State claiming the college deprived anti-abortion activists of their constitutional rights and unfairly targeted them by restricting where they could distribute fliers.

The lawsuit in federal court in Idaho was filed after the anti-abortion group Abolitionists4Life hosted two events on campus last spring that sought through images to “communicate its pro-life message,” the organization’s senior legal counsel, David Hacker, said in a statement.

The university told Abolitionists4Life that so-called warning signs were required for events tied to issues considered controversial and that it must distribute anti-abortion pamphlets inside one of the school’s eight “speech zones,” said Hacker.

Yet the university did not require other groups that hosted on-campus events in Idaho’s capital city to erect notices warning of their content, including a rally in which Planned Parenthood distributed condoms, he said.

Nor did the college force the Secular Student Alliance to stand in a free-speech island, Hacker said, while members distributed pamphlets entitled: “Does God exist?”

According to the deal struck between the university and the Alliance Defending Freedom, the college of nearly 23,000 students no longer requires warning signs or limits where literature can be given out.

In exchange, the organization agreed with Boise State lawyers to end the lawsuit, Hacker said.

“Universities cannot function as marketplaces of ideas if free speech requires a warning sign or is otherwise severely limited on campus,” he said.

Boise State spokesman Greg Hahn said school policy has been revised so that warning signs are never required for protests. He also said while the school did not admit it limited pamphlet distribution to restricted areas, it agreed to ensure in the future that all employees are made aware that groups and individuals can hand out literature in outdoor areas on campus.

Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Barbara Goldberg

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