Students, U. of Cincinnati reach temporary agreement in speech zone lawsuit

OHIO — TheUniversity of Cincinnati and its chapter of Young Americans for Liberty reacheda temporary agreement Thursday, allowing the students to gather signatures —but that doesn’t mean the group’s free speech lawsuit is finished in court.

Maurice Thompson, YAL’s attorney, said the organization isallowed under the agreement to collect petition signatures in any public forumon campus without needing to schedule with the university. The agreement willlast until the end of the court case and only affects YAL, Thompson said.

YAL filed suit Feb. 22 after the university allegedlyconfined the group’s petitioning to a “free speech area,” the use of whichrequired two weeks’ advance notice. YAL claims these policies areunconstitutional because they limit student free speech.

YAL attempted to collect signatures for a ballot initiativeto make Ohio a “right-to-work” state, but the free speech zone allowed membersto speak with only six students because of low foot-traffic.

Thompson said the university reached the agreement to slowdown the case; a hearing had been scheduled for Tuesday but was cancelled afterthe agreement. A hearing on a permanent injunction against the policy will takeplace May 30, and Thompson said the judge “promised a decision” by June 15.

Greg Hand, a UC spokesman, said reaching a temporaryagreement proves the university is accommodating to its students. He said theagreement is essentially the university “filling out the paperwork” for YAL,which the group “could have done themselves.”

Hand added that the free speech zone is not a requirementfor every event. He explained that off-campus groups and larger eventstypically use the zone, and that events happen “every day” that don’t requirethe zone’s use.

However, UC’sUse of Facilities Manual states that “demonstrations, picketing or rallies”must reserve the space, but does not define those terms. The manual also statesthat anyone violating the policy could be charged with trespassing.

YAL claimed theuniversity can misconstrue those terms to fit certain events, but Hand saidit’s up to the students to decide if their event fits those definitions.

“The university believes,” Hand said, “that our policies andprocedures are adequate to allow for free speech while maintaining the academicmission of the institution.”