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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, December 02, 2017 1:00 am

Anti-abortion group sues university

Says warnings around display limit free speech

Washington Post

A student group at Miami University in Ohio has sued the school after administrators allegedly demanded it post a warning on an anti-abortion display.

Students for Life, an anti-abortion group at the school, said administrators wanted the group to post “warning signs” around an anti-abortion display planned for October at the university's Hamilton campus, near Cincinnati. It was going to be called “Cemetery of the Innocents,” and “consists of small crosses placed in the ground in a confined area to represent the lives lost to abortion.”

The group had been allowed to mount the display for the last three academic years, according to the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. It had also previously generated controversy and was vandalized in 2015, the suit said.

This year, administrators sought conditions for approving the display, according to the complaint, leading Students for Life to nix it.

“Defendants refused to approve the display unless plaintiffs agreed to post warning signs around campus that effectively urged people not to view it, forcing plaintiffs to present a 'trigger warning' for their own display,” the lawsuit read.

The university's demand violated the First Amendment, Students for Life alleges.

The lawsuit “appears to be the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding,” Claire Wagner, the school's communications director, wrote in an email.

“The university does not approve or disapprove of any student organization's display based on content or subject matter. Miami University does not require trigger warnings,” Wagner wrote.

And yet, the complaint cited emails between the group and Caitlin Borges, Miami's director of student activities, that discussed the need for a warning.

According to the suit, Borges wanted signs “because she feared that the display might cause 'emotional trauma' for those who might view it and because she wanted to help these individuals 'better protect and manage their emotional reactions to the display.'”

Students for Life was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization that often represents conservative students in free-speech cases, emphasizing – as it did in the Miami University complaint – that “the cornerstone of higher education is the ability of students to participate in the 'marketplace of ideas' on campus.”