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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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The Statesman

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    Students Say U. of Oklahoma Decision Discriminated Against Christian Newspaper

    Two students in charge of a Christian newspaper at theUniversity of Oklahoma at Norman have filed areligious-discrimination lawsuit after a committee of theuniversity’s Student Congress denied their publication almostall of the student-fee appropriation they had requested.

    The two students — Ricky E. Thomas and James Hagan Wickett, whoare both seniors — filed the suit last week against theuniversity’s president, David L. Boren, and its Board ofRegents. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

    The suit says the Student Congress’s Ways and Meanscommittee granted the newspaper, the Beacon OU, only $150 of the$2,300 that Mr. Thomas and Mr. Wickett had sought for publicationand distribution.

    According to the lawsuit, Timothy Jay Roberts, a junior who ischairman of the committee, told Beacon OU staff members that theywere granted only a limited sum of money because of a universitypolicy prohibiting financing for ‘religious services of anynature.’

    University officials did not return calls on Tuesday seekingcomment.

    The purpose of the Beacon OU is to ‘share the genuine loveof God to the campus while providing news from or with a Christianperspective,’ according to the lawsuit. The publication alsoorganizes campus seminars on creationism and evolution.

    Jordan Lorence, a lawyer from the nonprofit Alliance DefenseFund, which is representing the students, said thecommittee’s decision to deny the paper financing wasunconstitutional. He cited the U. S. Supreme Court’s 1995ruling in Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of University ofVirginia, in which the court held that the University of Virginiahad violated the First Amendment by denying financial support to areligiously oriented student publication.

    ‘This case is an example of the recurring error that manyuniversity officials make in thinking that they have to treatreligious groups worse than everyone else to show thatthey’re neutral towards religion,’ said Lorence.’It’s clear and common sense that a university does notendorse a religious group just by treating it the same as otherstudent groups on campus.’

    One of the two students, Wickett, requested an investigationinto the committee’s decision in November, and thepresident’s office concluded two weeks later that there wasno evidence of discrimination in the decision. After the Beacon OUappealed the president’s ruling, an ad hoc committee set upby the president granted the publication an additional $500,although it is not clear if the money came from thestudent-activity account.

    The Ways and Means committee chairman, Mr. Roberts, declined tocomment on the lawsuit on Tuesday. But he earlier told The OklahomaDaily, the campus’s main student newspaper, that there wereother reasons that the Beacon OU did not receive more money,including its failure to organize fund-raising activities and itsdecision to reprint syndicated articles without copyrightpermission.

    Thomas and Wickett also declined to comment on the suit. Thomasadmitted to The Oklahoma Daily that the Beacon OU had violatedcopyright laws, but said it had since discontinued thepractice.

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