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Originally published Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Spokane college sued for blocking anti-abortion display

The Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Spokane Falls Community College student after she and other students were denied permission to put on an anti-abortion event on campus and were told they might be expelled if they proceeded.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Spokane Falls Community College student Beth Sheeran and several fellow Christian students wanted to put up an anti-abortion display and distribute fliers on campus in January to mark the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

But school administrators turned them down, apparently saying such an event would be offensive and discriminatory and that they would need to include opposing viewpoints.

This week, Sheeran sued in federal court in Spokane, saying the college and the school district to which it belongs violated her free speech and other constitutional rights.

The suit also claims school officials told her and other students that if they went ahead with the event, they could be expelled.

"That is obviously chilling their speech," said Heather Gebelin Hacker, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal group based in Arizona that filed the lawsuit on Sheeran's behalf.

"In addition, it allows the school to punish speech that they don't like. That's Orwellian."

The suit claims the college and Community Colleges of Spokane violated Sheeran's First Amendment free-speech rights and 14th Amendment due-process and equal-protection rights.

Representatives from the school and community college district said they had not had time to review the suit and could not comment.

At the beginning of the winter semester, Sheeran and other members of the Spokane Falls Christian Fellowship, a recognized campus student group, requested space in a display case in the student center.

They wanted to post information about abortion and distribute fliers with anti-abortion viewpoints.

School officials said they would need to display abortion-rights information as well, the lawsuit said.

According to the suit, the school has allowed other groups to hold events without presenting opposing viewpoints, including one with a clergyman on why faith communities should be allies with the gay and lesbian community.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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