Cypress College Settles Free Speech Case From Pro-Lifers

State   Steven Ertelt   Aug 30, 2011   |   1:34PM    Cypress, CA

Officials at the California-based Cypress College have settled a free speech case pro-life advocates brought against the college. Members of the Survivors, a pro-life group for young adults, filed the suit after Cypress College squelched their free speech in 2007.

Members of the team were arrested for criminal trespass but the Orange County District Attorney’s Office dismissed all charges against the pro-life advocates. The presiding judge went one step further and declared the team “factually innocent” and ordered that the record of the arrest be erased from the Department of Justice criminal records database.

A civil lawsuit was filed against Cypress College for the 2007 arrest seeking $20,000 for each of the three people arrested and $25,000 each from the city, college and college district. Today, the Life Legal Defense Foundation announced the settlement of the case, and it includes significant changes to the school’s free speech policy and payment to plaintiffs for both monetary damages and their attorneys’ fees.

The first suit arose from an incident in February 2007, when three members of the Survivors, based in Riverside, California, were arrested and jailed for refusing to stand in a yellow painted square marked “free speech area” that was located next to a construction zone. The young people were accused of trespassing on property not open to the general public, though their peaceful activities took place entirely in open areas of the public college.

The second suit arose just one year later, when the Survivors returned to Cypress College to once again engage in peaceful free speech activity. Cypress College administrators directed the arrest of the five pro-lifers and this time accused them of causing a disturbance on campus. All criminal charges were dismissed when the prosecutor reviewed video coverage of the activities that proved that no disturbance had occurred.

During the arrests, Survivors members said campus police indecently frisked three of the pro-life women and placed them in the back of squad cars for an hour before charging them with a crime.

In response to the false arrests, LLDF attorney Allison Aranda filed suit challenging the constitutionality of Cypress College’s free speech policy. After three and a half years of litigation, Cypress College has agreed to amend their free speech policy, thereby opening up the main areas of campus for peaceful First Amendment activities.

“This victory is a long time coming,” said Katie Short, legal director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation. “We have been battling Cypress College over their free speech policies for years. This victory shows that, with a lot of patience and persistence, it is possible to open the eyes of college administrators and successfully preserve the free speech rights of young people on our public college campuses.”

“We must do something to prevent college administrators and officials from blatantly violating the Constitutional rights of young people on public school campuses simply because the administration disagrees with the message these young people speak,” she said. “It is clear from the facts of both cases that the sole objective of the Cypress College administration is to silence the pro-life message being shared on their campus.”

Aranda urged pro-life advocates to make it clear to officials at other colleges and universities that stopping free speech rights is not allowed.