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Ohio University Settles Students’ Free Speech Lawsuit

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio University will revise its student conduct code and pay $32,000 to a student and his attorneys to settle a lawsuit challenging that code.

The lawsuit filed last summer on behalf of Isaac Smith alleged administrators violated constitutional free speech rights by telling students not to wear T-shirts bearing a sexually suggestive double entendre. The slogan had been used by a campus group that provides free help for students facing the school’s judicial process.

Members at an involvement fair wore shirts with “We get you off for free” emblazoned on them.

Educators suggested that Smith consider whether the shirts were appropriate but never told students not to wear the shirt or threatened them with discipline, the university in Athens said in a statement Monday. It said it agreed to “clarify our commitment to freedom of speech and expression” in the conduct code and pay Smith and his attorneys in exchange for them dismissing the case to avoid further expense for the university and burden for educators.

“Mr. Smith’s complaint stresses the important of upholding students’ right to free speech,” the statement said. “We agree fully with this premise and hold freedom of speech and expression as core values of our institution.”

Smith praised the outcome in a statement released by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit advocacy group that helped his case.

“I’m glad I stood up for speech and got my school to change its policies,” Smith said.

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