Anti-abortion student group and Chemeketa Community College reach agreement in federal lawsuit

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Jan. 9, 2021 2 p.m.

An anti-abortion student group at Chemeketa Community College has reached an agreement with the school over an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit focused on the legality of designating specific areas for speech activities. Both parties Friday jointly dismissed the suit.

Chemeketa Students for Life last May filed a lawsuit against the college’s board of education, stating the school was violating students’ first amendment rights by limiting speech and expression activities to two outdoor areas of campus.


Those “outdoor speech zones” at the Salem campus made up about 60,000 square feet, which is less than 1.5% of the college’s campus, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states the community college also required students to get approval at least two weeks in advance before speaking in those outdoor areas, and students had to provide the college with a description of their planned activities.

According to the settlement, Chemeketa has revised its speech policies, agreeing to remove its specified outdoor speech zones and the prior permission requirement for those zones.

The school will now only require students to request permission and sign a release form for events that take place indoors or will exceed 400 people.


The college has also paid $25,000 in legal costs to the student group’s attorneys.

“The only permit students need to speak on campus is the First Amendment,” said Michael Ross, legal counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom representing Chemeketa Students for Life, in a statement. “Chemeketa Community College’s previous policy placed a restriction on these fundamental freedoms by confining students to so-called ‘speech zones’ and requiring reservations weeks in advance. Thankfully, Chemeketa has agreed to revise these unconstitutional policies and help ensure that all students can engage in free expression on campus.”

The federal lawsuit was filed in the Eugene Division of the U.S. District Court on May 5 of last year by Chemeketa Students for Life’s president Marcos Sanchez and co-president Emma Howell.

The lawsuit detailed how multiple times early last year Chemeketa Students for Life wished to hand out fliers and distribute information about a variety of political issues but were deterred from doing so due to the college’s policies.

The lawsuit did not state any specific times when the group was explicitly denied a free speech opportunity by the college. But among their issues, Sanchez and Howell said the group was unable to engage in “spontaneous outdoor expression in response to legislation under consideration or other breaking news” due to Chemeketa’s policies.

“Chemeketa has always supported the free speech of our students and designated free speech areas on campus,” the community college said in a statement sent to OPB.

In its statement, Chemeketa said the Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization representing the student group, had previously agreed with the college’s free speech guidelines and locations.

“However, when the students wanted more spontaneous speech in additional areas, the organization re-evaluated their position and filed a lawsuit,” Chemeketa said. “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.”