Judge dismisses free speech lawsuit against Regent University

VIRGINIA — A former Regent University law student has lessthan a month to decide if he wants to appeal the rejection of his lawsuit afterit was thrown out of a U.S. District Court on June 5.

Adam Key filed suit in November 2007 against the private Christianinstitution based out of Virginia Beach, Va., claiming that his First Amendmentrights were violated when he was suspended from Regent in 2007 for posting animage, on his personal Facebook page, of university President Pat Robertsondisplaying his middle finger.

Following the ruling by U.S. District Judge Jerome Friedman, Key has 30days to file a motion to reconsider or appeal the ruling. Randall Kallinen,Key’s attorney, said that his client is still weighing the options, and whilethe ruling is a setback, he is not giving up hope.

“Its not the end, that’s for sure,” said Randall. “This is just abump in the road.”

In his lawsuit, Key alleges that the university, in suspending him,abridged his freedom of speech and showed disregard for due process.

Key also claims in the suit that recruiting materials sent to him by theschool misled him, and he alleges that false guarantees of religious and speechfreedoms were made to him by school officials all resulting in brokencontracts.

Friedman, who said that no contract was established, dismissed Key’sargument.

“Neither the generic recruiting correspondence received by plaintiff norhis vague reference to agreements allegedly made by Regent suffice to suggestthe existence of any such contract,” wrote Friedman in his ruling.

Key also claimed in his suit that although the school is private, it stillwas still receiving “vast direct and indirect federal and state funds,” therebyrequiring the institution to operate under federal rules regarding free speechand due process.

Friedman rejected Key’s claim, quoting part of a 1982 Supreme Court rulingin Rendell-Barker v. Kohn.

“However, it is clear as a matter of law that, without more, a ‘school’sreceipt of public funds does not make [its] decisions acts of the State.'”

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, agreedwith the judge’s comments and said that even if the university received funds,money given to the institution does not automatically make it an agent of thestate.

Kallinen said that Key’s case against the university is especiallyimportant in defending student expression in the future.

“Basically it doesn’t hold well for any student … they should be entitledto some rights,” said Kallinen. “I think that a student should be able to dowhat Adam Key did.”

Judy Baker, director of public relations for Regent, declined to comment onthe ruling.

Baker referenced a statement made by Robertson to the press in October 2007regarding the university’s position on student expression.

“It is Regent University’s policy to foster our essential freedoms ofexpression and speech,” wrote Robertson. “However we do not feel that freedom ofspeech encompasses the practice of the deliberate manipulation of televisionimages to transform an innocent gesture into something obscene.”

Goldstein said that Robertson’s take on student expression isalarming.

“Private schools have a fair amount of discretion in choosing how toregulate speech,” said Goldstein. “The real question is whether the schoolpromised one thing and then gave them something else. When someone says,’freedom of speech doesn’t mean you’re free to express yourself,’ alarmbells should go off.”