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

OHIO — The University of Cincinnati and its chapter of Young Americans for Liberty reached a 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 is allowed under the agreement to collect petition signatures in any public forum on campus without needing to schedule with the university. The agreement will last until the end of the court case and only affects YAL, Thompson said.

YAL filed suit Feb. 22 after the university allegedly confined the group’s petitioning to a “free speech area,” the use of which required two weeks’ advance notice. YAL claims these policies are unconstitutional because they limit student free speech.

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

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

Greg Hand, a UC spokesman, said reaching a temporary agreement proves the university is accommodating to its students. He said the agreement 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 requirement for every event. He explained that off-campus groups and larger events typically use the zone, and that events happen “every day” that don’t require the zone’s use.

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

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

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

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