Student who was punished for trying to post flier settles suit against Calif. college

CALIFORNIA— A student who said he was punished for trying to post a flierpromoting a conservative author’s campus speech settled a First Amendmentlawsuit on May 6 against California Polytechnic State University.Underits agreement with Steven Hinkle, the public university will reimburse him for$40,000 in legal fees, delete any reference to the punishment from his recordsand allow him to post fliers on the San Luis Obispo campus.In February2003, a university disciplinary committee found Hinkle guilty of “disrupting acampus event” at a campus multicultural center for attempting to post fliersthat promoted a speech by Mason Weaver, a black conservative who has argued thatdependence on government aid enslaves blacks. Hinkle, who is white, wasordered to write apology letters to several black students who filed a complaintwith campus police about “a suspicious white male passing out literature of anoffensive racial nature,” according to Hinkle’s lawsuit. The students claimedthey were preparing to hold Bible study, although Hinkle contended that thestudents posted no notice alerting others of the event. In September2003, Hinkle filed a lawsuit against Cal Poly, alleging that the university usedthe charge of “disrupting a campus event” as an excuse to violate his FirstAmendment right to free speech. Hinkle claims he was punished because studentsfound his fliers offensive. Courts have consistently ruled that it isunconstitutional for a public college to punish someone for speech that isdeemed offensive. The Center for Individual Rights and the Foundationfor Individual Rights in Education supported Hinkle in his lawsuit.”Thanks to the work of FIRE and CIR, it has become more difficult forschools to punish students for the ‘crime’ of ‘offensive’ speech,” said CurtLevey, director of legal and public affairs for the Center for IndividualRights. “However, this progress is endangered when schools attempt to use acharge of disruption as a pretext for censoring speech. Fortunately, SteveHinkle’s victory will serve to discourage such attempts at Cal Poly andbeyond.”Despite agreeing to settle the lawsuit, the university issued astatement denying “any claims of wrongdoing or violation of law.””Havingmany months ago decided to conclude this matter, Cal Poly no longer wishes toexpend additional time and resources to defend it in court,” according to thestatement.

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