Students for Life at Miami University of Ohio, Hamilton v. Trustees of Miami University of Ohio
Description: Miami University of Ohio policies authorize officials at its Hamilton campus to require students to post signs “warning” others about Students for Life’s pro-life display.
Pro-life student group lawsuit prompts end to 'trigger warnings' at Ohio university
“We commend the university for quickly recognizing that its officials do not have the authority to censor student speech simply because of how someone might respond to it,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “By revising its policies to respect students’ constitutionally protected rights, the university has fostered the marketplace of ideas that public universities are supposed to be. After all, the only permission slip students need to speak on campus is the First Amendment, and they cannot be forced to post ‘trigger warning’ signs simply to share their ideas.”
Last year, Students for Life sued university officials after they shut down the group’s annual Cemetery of the Innocents display. When Students for Life sought approval to hold the display, an official informed the group’s president that the display would only be permitted if the group placed signs around campus warning people about its content. She justified this “trigger warning” requirement by saying the display might cause “emotional trauma” to those who might see it, and she offered to discuss “less harmful” ways the group could express its pro-life views.
Under the settlement agreement, Miami University of Ohio has disavowed one policy officials used to impose the warning sign requirement, a policy that also created a complex, burdensome permit system for speech activities. It agreed to revise a second policy used to justify the warning signs so that other student groups will not face similar mistreatment. And it agreed to revise a third policy so officials cannot stifle speech simply because it could “cause alarm, annoyance, or nuisance.” The university has also agreed to pay Students for Life’s damages and attorneys’ fees.
“Today’s university students will be tomorrow’s voters and civic leaders,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “That’s why it’s so important that public colleges and universities exemplify the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students. Miami University has shown it wants to do that by taking quick corrective action in agreeing to revise their policies to protect free speech.”
“Tolerance is a two-way street,” added Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins. “Just like any other student group seeking to promote its message, Students for Life members should be free to share their love and concern for mothers and their children without government censorship. These policy changes will protect the views of all students, not just those favored by a few administrators.”
In light of the settlement agreement reached in Students for Life at Miami University of Ohio, Hamilton v. Trustees of Miami University of Ohio, ADF attorneys dismissed the lawsuit on Thursday.
Thomas W. Kidd, Jr. one of more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel for the Students for Life chapter. Students for Life of America is the nation’s largest pro-life youth organization and currently serves more than 1,200 groups in colleges, high schools, and medical schools across the U.S.
- Pronunciation guide: Barham (BEHR’-um), Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.
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Travis C. Barham serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where he plays a key role with the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. He focuses his legal efforts on preserving and reclaiming religious freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of association for students and faculty at universities throughout the country. His work has been instrumental in securing several strategic appellate court victories, including a public university free speech victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2021. Barham earned his Juris Doctor from Washington and Lee University School of Law in 2006, where he graduated summa cum laude. Barham is a member of the bars of Georgia and Arizona. He is also admitted to practice before multiple federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tyson Langhofer serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and director of its Center for Academic Freedom. Before joining ADF, Langhofer was a partner with Stinson Leonard Street LLP, where he worked as a commercial litigation attorney for 15 years and earned Martindale-Hubbell’s AV Preeminent® rating. Langhofer earned his Juris Doctor from Regent University School of Law, where he graduated cum laude in 1999. He obtained a B.A. in international business with a minor in economics from Wichita State University in 1996. A member of the bar in Virginia, Kansas, and Arizona, Langhofer is also admitted to practice in numerous federal district courts.