California university student settles free-speech lawsuit


By Staff Writer

Associated Press, May 6, 2004

A student who claims he was punished for posting a political flier has settled a free-speech lawsuit against California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Under the agreement reached this week with the school’s board of trustees, the university will expunge its disciplinary action from Steven Hinkle’s record, allow him to post fliers and reimburse $40,000 in legal fees.

“I’m glad this is over so I can actually concentrate on school,” said Hinkle, 23, an industrial technology major. “I can go back to hanging up fliers and being more active. I would absolutely do it again.”

The campus and the University of California “deny any claims of wrongdoing or violation of law,” the school said in a statement Thursday.

Cal Poly said the school had dropped its student discipline case against Hinkle before he filed the lawsuit.

“Having many months ago decided to conclude this matter, Cal Poly no longer wishes to expend additional time and resources to defend it in court,” the university said.

In November 2002, Hinkle went to the campus multicultural center to post a flier advertising a speech by Mason Weaver, a black conservative who argues that reliance on government aid enslaves blacks.

Hinkle, who is white and at the time was president of the campus Republican club, was confronted by some black students who said they found the flier offensive.

Hinkle left without posting it but police later arrived and took a report that stated they had been called “to investigate a suspicious white male passing out literature of an offensive racial nature,” according to Hinkle’s lawsuit.

The school’s Judicial Affairs Office later ruled that Hinkle violated a state regulation that bars “obstruction or disruption” of campus functions – specifically, a Bible study that the students contended they were preparing to hold.

Hinkle refused an order to write letters of apology to the students and filed a federal lawsuit accusing the school of violating his constitutional rights.

“The settlement does not change our Student Code of Conduct regarding ‘disruption,”‘ the school said. “What is included in the settlement is a reaffirmation of the standard that existed before this case.”