STILLWATER — An anti-abortion group is suing Oklahoma State University, saying university officials refused to allow them to distribute leaflets on campus.
Cowboys for Life, an OSU student organization, claims university officials singled the group out because it opposes abortion rights. The lawsuit was filed Friday in federal court in Oklahoma City.
The group seeks to have OSU's facilities use policy — the policy that dictates when and how groups may use university facilities — declared invalid. The group also is seeking $10,000 in damages.
The group had sought to hand out leaflets and carry signs in October at three locations on campus. The lawsuit alleges Kent Sampson, OSU's director of campus life, refused to allow the group to display graphic images in heavily trafficked areas of campus.
OSU spokesman Gary Shutt said Monday university officials have not seen the lawsuit.
Brently Olsson, the group's attorney, said the signs and leaflets featured pictures of an aborted fetus. The group uses the graphic imagery to show the result of abortion, Olsson said.
Olsson compared the group's use of graphic images of abortion to similar practices employed by William Wilberforce, an 18th-century British abolitionist crusader who showed the public the ghastly conditions endured by slaves aboard slave ships.
The images used in Cowboys for Life's leaflets and signs may be disturbing, Olsson said, but they make the group's point effectively.
“The end result of abortion is very tragic,” he said. “That side of the story, be it graphic, needs to be brought to people's attention.”
OSU's facilities use policy allows university officials to limit expressive demonstrations in order to avoid disruption, to prevent scheduling two events in the same place at once or to protect the public order.
Olsson said he thinks the university violated his clients' First Amendment rights in its enforcement of that policy. University officials can't limit student speech based on content, he said.
Arizona-based anti-abortion group Alliance Defending Freedom is also representing the group in the case.
According to the lawsuit, members of Cowboys for Life were subject to harassment and intimidation from OSU officials, including Sampson and OSU Vice President for Student Affairs Lee Bird, during joint campus events the group held Oct. 24-26 with members of Justice for All, another anti-abortion group.
The lawsuit also alleges OSU officials forced the group to place signs around their displays to warn passers-by about graphic content.
According to the lawsuit, the OSU Student Senate later voted to recommend the Office of Student Conduct investigate the group for violations of the Student Code of Conduct. The suit alleges the inquiry was in retaliation for the group's campus events.