Oklahoma State University has hired an attorney to argue that the school is violating the First Amendment by allowing students to have “free speech” at its commencement ceremonies.
A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of some 200 students, faculty and staff, claims that the university violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments when it allowed students to “chill out” during the national anthem.
The ACLU says that the decision to allow students to gather in the lobby to peacefully participate in the anthem, even after a national debate over the issue, violates the constitutional rights of those students, staff and faculty.
“This lawsuit challenges the university’s decision to limit students’ speech to those that directly affect their personal and professional life,” said ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director Jason Littman in a statement.
“It’s an affront to the Constitution that a university like Oklahoma State would take this step.”
The university has argued that it does not allow students or faculty to “conduct the business of the university.”
The ACLU also filed a lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma, which it says is infringing on the students’ First Amendment rights.
“The Constitution does not require that our public universities provide equal access to public speech,” Littmann said.
“In the end, the law says what universities do with their money is their business.”
The lawsuit asks a federal judge to order the university to allow for a demonstration and to “restrict access to and the use of the building by all students, teachers, faculty, and staff to the plaza where the students are exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.”
A university spokeswoman said that while the students and faculty “are entitled to freedom of expression, the university does not have the right to restrict that speech or to prevent students from expressing their views.”
Oklahoma State was founded in 1874 and the first commencement ceremony took place on May 6, 1896.
The state has a history of being a hotbed of political activism and controversy.
In 2015, students at the University of Oklahoma took over a public building in the campus parking lot to protest the death of student Eric Garner, a black man, by police officer Daniel Pantaleo.
Protesters, including members of the alt-right, disrupted the graduation ceremony, which had been scheduled for July 9.
“Oklahoma is a conservative state, but we don’t want our students to be treated like terrorists and thugs,” said James B. Stokes, a political science professor at Oklahoma State.
“There are no students here who are threatening violence, who are going to be intimidating or trying to intimidate other students.
They’re just people who want to have a good time.”