Miami University Trustees sued over pro-life exhibit ruling

Oxford, Oh.— Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit to reverse a school administration decision at Miami University to shut down a pro-life display.

Since 2015, Students for Life of Miami University of Ohio, Hamilton, has regularly conducted its Cemetery of the Innocents display on the campus’s Central Quad. The display features small crosses placed in the ground to commemorate the lives lost to abortion, along with an explanatory sign.

In October, Students for Life President Ellen Wittman e-mailed a university official to request approval to hold the display once again. The official responded by saying that the group could conduct the display only if it placed signs around campus warning people about its content. She justified this warning sign requirement by saying she feared that the pro-life display might cause “emotional trauma” for those who might view it and because she wanted to help them “better protect and manage their emotional reactions to the display.” Additionally, she offered to meet with the group to discuss “less harmful” ways of expressing its pro-life views.

“No university official has the authority to censor student speech simply because of how someone might respond to it,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “Like all government officials, public university administrators have an obligation to respect students’ free speech rights. The First Amendment secures the freedom of all students to participate in the marketplace of ideas, and it prohibits university officials from imposing trigger warnings that restrict what some students can say to spare the feelings of others.”

The university’s speech code gives administrators broad powers to grant or deny exhibits on campus. Students must request a permit seven days in advance, explain the message and/or purpose and to let officials edit the exhibit as they see fit.

The lawsuit-Students for Life at Miami University of Ohio, Hamilton v. Trustees of Miami University of Ohio, seeks to point out the importance of teaching the full meaning of First Amendment to the next generation of leaders, legislators and judges.

“The unnecessary obstacles students experienced at Miami University of Ohio in Hamilton sadly is all too common on campuses across the country,” said Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins. “Students peacefully trying to hold an exhibit that inspires conversation with fellow students about their love and concern for preborn infants and their mothers should be protected.”