A public college will pay $5,000 to a women’s group that filed suit claiming its free speech rights were violated when campus police removed signs that read “Keep your rosaries off our ovaries.”
Under a settlement announced Tuesday, the school, Rhode Island College, also has made changes to its policy on signs to clarify what can be posted on campus.
The Women’s Studies Organization posted the signs near the campus entrance in December 2005 to coincide with a day of activism for women’s rights.
A Roman Catholic priest arriving at the campus to conduct a weekly Mass complained to the college administration and police were directed to take the signs down.
“College is a place for the free exchange of ideas, and I can now be proud to say I attend a school which allows the free speech rights that are essential to a learning community,” Jennifer Magaw, the president of the women’s organization, said in a statement.
Magaw said the signs were intended to provoke discussion about the refusal by pharmacists locally and nationally to distribute emergency contraceptive to customers for religious reasons.
“We wanted to have a day of awareness, a day of discussion about it,” Magaw said.
Rhode Island College spokeswoman Jane Fusco said the signs were removed because they were not associated with a specific event or program and because they were placed in an area of campus where signs are typically prohibited.
“The issue was never about free speech,” Fusco said. “It was a miscommunication of campus policy that has since been clarified.”
The college will pay the students’ legal fees. The state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union had sued on the group’s behalf.
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