An Ohio University student has successfully sued for the right to wear a T-shirt making a crude sex joke on campus.
This is the fourth straight victory for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education as it works to eliminate speech codes on American college campuses.
Isaac Smith sued Ohio University last year after the school tried to bar him and his friends from wearing shirts promoting their organization Students Defending Students. SDS provides free assistance to students accused of disciplinary infractions, so fittingly, the T-shirts read “We get you off for free.”
Neither the group’s mission nor its lewd humor endeared it to university administrators, who tried to ban the shirts. The university’s vague code of conduct, which prohibits any “action from which mental or bodily harm could result to another person,” narrowly backed up the demand.
With FIRE’s assistance, Smith sued, and OU quickly found itself in a battle it did not want to fight. On Monday, it agreed to settle the case as a total victory for Smith, allowing him to wear his shirt, while also paying him $32,000 in damages and agreeing to roll back its speech code.
“For too long, universities have engaged in censorship with little or no fear of repercussions,” FIRE president Greg Lukianoff said in a statement sent to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “FIRE is bringing that era to an end.”
For most of its history, FIRE simply served as an advocacy organization, rating schools based on their speech policies and encouraging schools to allow students and professors greater liberty. Last year, however, the organization significantly reformed its approach by launching its Stand Up for Speech Litigation Project, declaring that it would identify schools it believes have illegal speech restrictions and then sue them into submission.
Out of seven total lawsuits FIRE has filed in the past year, four have now been settled in their favor, while three are still being litigated. The wins have extracted over $200,000 in settlement costs from the targeted schools. FIRE has said that it will continue filing new lawsuits until colleges no longer find it worthwhile to implement speech codes and other restrictions on student expression FIRE regards as unconstitutional.
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