Chemeketa Community College on Thursday, April 16. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Students at Chemeketa Community College can now more easily hold protests on campus after the college settled a lawsuit with a conservative legal group.

Under the agreement, the college changed its policy that allowed students to only hold protests in designated areas that made up less than 1.5% of the 100-acre campus while also requiring them to obtain permission two weeks prior to holding their event. The college will also pay $25,000 in legal fees to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based nonprofit focused on constitutional rights.

In May of last year, the Alliance Defending Freedom brought a federal complaint against Chemeketa Community College on behalf of Chemeketa Students for Life, a pro-life student group. The complaint argued that the college’s policies stifled the group’s speech and prevented it from engaging with other students on breaking news or legislation. The lawsuit pointed to how students were unable to hand out fliers promoting an event as the U.S. Senate considered abortion-related bills.

“Today’s college students are our future legislators, judges, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public colleges model the First Amendment values they’re supposed to be teaching students,” said Tyson Langhofer, director of the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Academic Freedom, in a statement. “Pro-life students—like all students—have the freedom to share messages of hope and healing anywhere on campus, and without first asking college administrators for permission to speak.”

The alliance dropped the lawsuit on Friday, Jan. 8, following both sides signed an agreement in November that laid out a new free-speech policy at the college.

“Chemeketa has always supported the free speech of our students and designated free speech areas on campus,” the college said in a statement. “We are happy to report that we collaborated with the students' attorneys to revise our existing Free Speech Guidelines to the satisfaction of all parties.”

The policy allows students to hand out leaflets or flyers, picket, make speeches or pass out petitions in outside areas of the college. Protesters can’t block foot traffic, disrupt classrooms or other college business or use weapons. The policy also allows students to hold events in indoor free speech areas that need to be reserved in advance.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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