The Oregon State University student group that publishes The Liberty, a conservative-leaning journal, has sued OSU officials, arguing that the university has discriminated against the journal by arbitrarily limiting the opportunities for its distribution.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Eugene, is the latest development in a months-long dispute between OSU and The Liberty.
Earlier this year, Will Rogers, the executive director of The Liberty and a plaintiff in the lawsuit along with his organization, the OSU Students Alliance, complained that university officials weren't treating his publication in the same way they were treating The Daily Barometer, the official and traditional campus newspaper. In particular, Rogers told the Gazette-Times in June, The Liberty previously had been able to have about a dozen bins and racks to distribute the free publication, but OSU limited that to two locations.
In response, OSU officials said then that The Barometer, as the university-sponsored student newspaper, is granted an exemption to an informal policy that limits distribution points for publications.
Rogers is being represented in the lawsuit by attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund, a national legal alliance founded in 1993 by prominent Christian leaders. One of those attorneys, Heather Hacker, said Wednesday that staff members of The Liberty "just basically want to be treated like the Barometer. ... That's just basic fairness."
Rogers referred comment on the lawsuit on Wednesday to the alliance.
Todd Simmons, OSU assistant vice president for university advancement, declined comment on the lawsuit, saying that neither OSU nor the individually named defendants have seen the lawsuit. Individual defendants include OSU President Ed Ray; Mark McCambridge, vice president for finance and administration; Larry Roper, vice provost for student affairs; and Vincent Martorello, director of facilities services.
The suit argues that "though the university permits The Daily Barometer's numerous distribution bins to be located throughout campus with no apparent restriction, university officials surreptitiously confiscated the few distribution bins belonging to The Liberty, and threw them in a storage yard near a Dumpster."
Later, the suit says, OSU officials "arbitrarily classified The Liberty (an exclusively student-operated, on-campus publication) as an 'off-campus' publication and disallowed it to place distribution bins anywhere on campus except the immediate vicinity of the student union."
The suit says OSU's actions have deprived The Liberty of its rights to free speech, equal protection and due process.
The suit seeks an order barring OSU from restricting The Liberty's distribution bins, along with compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees.