- Associated Press - Monday, June 30, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Boise State University’s use of “speech zones” to contain student protests violates First Amendment rights, an anti-abortion group claims in a recent lawsuit.

Student-group Abolitionists4Life filed the lawsuit against the university last Friday after the university put restrictions on two of their protests earlier this year.

Currently, the university has 11 speech zones designated as protest areas on its campus which make up less than 1 percent of the 175-acre campus.

Students must reserve the space in 72-hours in advance on a first come, first served basis, put up advisory signs if the university determines the protest offensive and cannot distribute fliers or other demonstration material outside of their reserved zone during the time of the protest.

According to the lawsuit, Abolitionists4Life claims the university deemed their protest signs as “controversial” when they hosted anti-abortion demonstrations in April and May. The university required them to put up warning signs because the group was displaying graphic images of aborted fetuses.

“Universities are a place where controversial issues are brought up every day and we were simply allowing our campus to see the controversy of abortion for what it really is,” said Lisa Atkins, president of BSU Abolitionists4Life. “Just because an issue is controversial doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to talk about it and allow others to understand the issue for themselves.”

The group states that the university did not apply the same amount of scrutiny on Planned Parenthood, which hosted a table near the anti-abortion protest and volunteers distributed condoms outside of the speech zone.

The lawsuit also points out that the Secular Student Alliance is allowed to distribute “Does God Exist” fliers on any part of campus.

“University policies that suppress free speech are completely at odds with what a university is: a marketplace of ideas,” said David Hacker, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom defending the student group, in a statement. “Free speech should not be limited to a tiny area on campus, nor should students be told their speech needs a warning sign simply because university officials think their views are ‘controversial.’”

BSU spokesman Greg Hahn said the university’s attorneys were reviewing the complaint.

“Boise State University encourages and respects the constitutionally protected free speech of students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus,” Hahn said in an email. “University policies reflect numerous court opinions on ‘time, place and manner’ guidelines and other 1st Amendment considerations.”

Free speech zones are common on university campuses, even though many are being challenged in court. Most recently, a Virginia community college system agreed to suspend its student demonstration policy following a lawsuit filed by a student to negotiate a new policy.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, one in six public colleges use “free speech zones” such as the ones used at BSU.

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