Arizona State student group files lawsuit over insurance requirement

ARIZONA — An Arizona State University student organization is suing the school after it says the university used insurance requirements to limit the group’s freedom of speech.

The lawsuit, filed in an Arizona federal district court July 21, points to two instances where the anti-abortion group, Students for Life, was allegedly singled out. The group tried to reserve space for a pro-life exhibit in December 2005, featuring graphic pictures and “visually compelling” displays expressing their views about abortion. The group’s officers claimed that the university demanded a reservation fee and insurance, but that no other student organizations had been obligated to pay fees or provide insurance for campus events in the past.

The university later waived the reservation fee, but insisted on the insurance requirement. Heather Gebelin Hacker, the group’s lawyer, said Students For Life eventually obtained a rider on the insurance policy of Arizona Right to Life, an Arizona anti-abortion non-profit, for $103.25.

“Free speech does not have a price tag,” Hacker said. “Here the university is asking college students to pay hundreds of dollars to express free expression.”

University officials maintain that the requirements were not imposed on the group because of the content of their speech.

“These were very large displays and involved vehicles coming into campus,” Arizona State University General Counsel Art Lee said. “We wanted to ensure the safety of our students and visitors.”

For another event, part of the group’s “Dignity of Life Week,” Students for Life members wanted to reserve two tables and bring in an outside organization to display materials and distribute pro-life literature. The group was again required to provide insurance, which was estimated at about $900.

Hacker said group members were then sent on “a goose chase” to speak with different administrators about the requirement. The insurance requirement was eventually waived and the event went on.

But Hacker said that while the group was able to hold the events, Students For Life members were forced to comply with other policies that were not applied to all student organizations. She said the university ultimately discouraged the “expression of less favored views.”

“[The group] doesn’t deserve to be treated like second-class citizens because of their speech,” Hacker said.

Hacker said that the insurance requirements, which she claims were “implemented arbitrarily,” could potentially hurt smaller campus groups who would not be able to raise that amount of money.

Lee said that all third-party “vendors” or outside organizations are required to have insurance if they are reserving space on-campus.

“What they were doing was actually reserving space,” Lee said. “If [a third-party organization] wanted to come to campus, stand there and just hand out literature, there would be no insurance requirement, but they were reserving a spot and setting up a table.”

Both parties said they are currently waiting for a pre-trial conference date.