Okla. university settles lawsuit over funding for Christian paper

OKLAHOMA — Two students at the University of Oklahoma settled a lawsuit in April that sought to overturn a school policy prohibiting student fees from funding their Christian newspaper.

Ricky Thomas and James Wickett were denied funding for The Beacon OU, their newspaper that provides ”news from or with a Christian perspective,” because a school policy prohibited the use of student fees for ”religious services.” The students claim the policy was enforced when the student government, which allocates student fees, considered their request for funding.

The students settled the lawsuit April 2, and the school agreed to change the policy by removing ”religious services” from the list of items that cannot be paid for with student fee money or state funds. The school will pay the students $2,500, $1,000 of which will go toward newspaper fees such as printing and $1,500 will be used to pay lawyer’s fees, Wickett said.

”I’m pleased with the settlement,” Wickett said. ”I’m pleased that the right thing was actually done, and I’m pleased about more than just the money getting to The Beacon OU, I’m very pleased that the [policy] is being changed for the University of Oklahoma and that future student groups won’t have similar problems.”

Kevin Theriot, the students’ lawyer and staff counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization that defends religious civil liberties, said a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court case set precedent for their lawsuit. In Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, the court ruled that university funds could not be denied to a student newspaper simply because of the paper’s religious viewpoint.

Theriot said the school’s old policy ”specifically discriminates against religious speech.”

The students applied for funding for the newspaper through the student government. According to the lawsuit, the students requested $2,300 in student fees to fund the paper, but were only allocated $150. The students claim the student government allocated $4,750 to another alternative student newspaper with similar distribution.

The Beacon OU had published for about a year before requesting funding. The newspaper staff has printed articles on faith, the existence of God and campus ministry events.

”We didn’t do it to make any money, we just did it because we thought it wasn’t right; people deserve freedom of speech,” Wickett said.

Joe Harroz, the university’s lawyer, declined to comment.