Utah’s Snow College Changes Policies to Restore Students’ Religious Freedom

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college religious freedom After several months of facing a lawsuit alleging free speech violations, a college in the town of Ephraim corrected its policies to include more religious freedom to its campus. Shortly after, a Christian student dropped its suit against the school.

In the fall of 2012, a Snow College official prohibited Solid Rock Christian Club (SRCC) from posting faith-based images and text during a homecoming event.

“Snow College has done the right thing in recognizing that the First Amendment protects the freedom of all students to gather with those of like mind to express their ideas, and that includes students of faith and religious ideas,” said Travis Barham, litigation staff counsel for Alliance (ADF), representing SRCC.

The school’s “Paint the Town” homecoming event lets student groups decorate the windows of participating businesses along the street. Before SRCC students were even finished outlining a cross on the window of Los Amigos restaurant, school official Ms. Brown ordered them to remove it. She also ordered them to remove the message: “The cross covers sin now, then, and forever,” which actually coincided with the homecomings theme of “now, then, and forever.”

Later, school officials removed similar art and text by SRCC from another building. In an email, an official told the group that its Christian message “is in poor taste.”

Snow College policies treated student organizations with religious affiliations differently than other student groups. Most could meet in campus facilities without charge, advertise their events without fees and seek funding for their activities. Religious students groups — including SRCC — were not afforded these opportunities.

In September, ADF wrote a letter to the college threatening litigation if the school did not change its policies. “Ms. Brown may find Solid Rock’s display ‘in poor taste’ but the First Amendment bars her from restricting its speech for this reason,” the letter states. “After all, the ‘bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment … is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. If she finds it offensive, the First Amendment solution is simple: She can avert her eyes.”

ADF filed the lawsuit against the college in October. Earlier this month, SRCC and the school reach a settlement agreement. The agreement states that the college has implemented revised policies and published them for students on April 1.

According to the settlement, the college has agreed “not to adopt or enforce the provisions of the old policies…that deny student organizations ‘associated with religious institutions’ the privileges afforded to other groups.”

ADF filed its voluntary dismissal of the lawsuit on April 10.

“Colleges are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas,” Barham explained, “not the centers of censorship.”