After lawsuit by student, Haskell forced to not retaliate against First Amendment Rights
LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - Haskell University is now legally required to not retaliate against students or the student paper for utilizing their First Amendment rights after a lawsuit by a former student was decided on Tuesday.
After Haskell Indians Nations University student editor Jared Nally took a case that included censorship, coercion and stonewalling to court against the university, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education says he won.
On Tuesday, Feb. 8, FIRE said the Lawrence District Court ordered Haskell Indian Nations University to adopt sweeping policy changes to protect the First Amendment rights of students at the federally operated university.
The court also ordered the University to safeguard the editorial independence of the award-winning student newspaper, The Indian Leader.
The order utilizes an agreement Nally and Haskell filed late Monday and peaks a year-long battle after then-President Ronald Graham prohibited Nally, former editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, from participating in routine newsgathering duties.
FIRE said Haskell interfered with the student newspaper’s financial and administrative operations derailing requests to confirm funding and account balances as well as refusing to officially recognize the paper for an entire academic year.
The order settles all but one claim in the suit filed by FIRE on March 2, 2021.
“I hope this case not only protects the next generation of student journalists at Haskell but empowers individuals at other institutions to realize they have rights and options when it comes to using their voice,” said Nally.
Under the order, FIRE said Haskell is banned from retaliating against students in the way it retaliated against Nally for executing routine journalistic operations.
In October 2020, FIRE said Graham issued a “directive” that required Nally to show administrators and others he encountered while covering local news to show the “highest respect.” He let the directive stand for three months before he quietly rescinded it and did not tell Nally until three months later.
FIRE said it wrote to Haskell in January 2021 to demand it revise the restrictive policies, including one Graham invoked in his directive, which required all expression to be consistent with a shapeless list of terms including “respect” and “integrity.”
In May, just a day after it asked the court to stop Haskell from enforcing the policy while the lawsuit was pending, the Foundation said the University rescinded it on its own.
Under the order, FIRE said Haskell is prohibited from reinstating the policy or establishing a new policy that requires student speech to conform to shapeless values.
In other words, the Foundation said Haskell is now required to allow all students to express themselves freely, even if administrators consider their expression “disrespectful.”
In the wake of administrators’ refusal to explain an apparent shortage in The Indian Leader’s funding for months, the order also ensures Haskell will be transparent about funds allocated to the student newspaper in the future.
Under the order, FIRE said Haskell is required to give the paper insight into its funding as well as a way to independently verify it is not being shortchanged funds if administrators do not like what the paper has to say.
“It’s the role of a student newspaper to hold college administrators accountable,” said FIRE attorney Katlyn Patton. “But Haskell didn’t let the paper do its job, so a lawsuit held them accountable instead. FIRE is pleased The Indian Leader can now continue its award-winning legacy as the country’s oldest Native American student newspaper without fear of censorship.”
While speech is free, FIRE said censorship is costly. Under the agreement, it said Haskell is required to pay $40,000 in attorneys’ fees.
However, FIRE said Nally’s fight is far from over as he continues to seek damages against Graham, who was ousted from the position just after the suit was filed.
In July, the Foundation said the court dismissed Nally’s damages claims on the ground that a First Amendment retaliation claim against federal officials is rarely, if ever, available.
However, on March 2, exactly a year after Nally filed his suit, the Supreme Court will hear a case concerning the availability of damages against federal officials who violate First Amendment rights.
In January, FIRE said it filed an amicus brief to urge the Supreme Court to recognize that speakers who are retaliated against at the hands of federal officials should be able to recover damages. It said it intends to represent Nally and The Indian Leader as they appeal the dismissal of their damages claims.
“Graham is a prime example of a federal official who abused his power and should not be shielded from the consequences,” said FIRE’s Vice President of Litigation Darpana Sheth. “We urge the Supreme Court to do the right thing and affirm that federal officials must pay when they violate First Amendment rights.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at the nation’s colleges and universities.
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