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UB settles lawsuit claiming it didn't protect 2013 pro-life rally

When a pro-life group at the University at Buffalo tried to stage a "Genocide Awareness" rally four years ago, one of the results was a counter protest that turned ugly.

The other result was a lawsuit accusing UB of looking the other way.

In a new settlement ending the civil suit, the university stops short of admitting any wrongful behavior but agrees it will not engage in discriminatory enforcement at future events held by the two pro-life organizations that organized the rally and display.

The state also will pay $30,000 in attorney fees to the legal group representing the organizations.

"We achieved everything we set out to achieve," said Robert Muise, a lawyer for the American Freedom Law Center. "We set out to prove that the university has a constitutional obligation to defend its students' rights to free speech, and they agreed."

The civil suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, accused UB of violating the free speech rights of pro-life advocates who organized the genocide rally and display outside the Student Union in April of 2013. The mural display featured images of aborted fetuses and linked abortion to the Nazi's murder of Jews and to atrocities committed by Khmer Rouge strongman Pol Pot.

Pro-life organizers claim the rally, a university-approved event, was disrupted when pro-choice supporters began waving white sheets in front of the display and otherwise interfering with its pro-life message.

Organizers also claim UB did little to control the counter protest.

The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, one of the groups sponsoring the event, said the suit was designed to prevent UB from condoning future counter protests against pro-life supporters.

The suit did not seek monetary damages but did ask the court to declare that UB violated the constitutional rights of two students organizers and UB Students for Life, the other organization sponsoring the event.

The court never made that declaration but the settlement, which details UB's legal obligations to the two groups, came just four months after a federal judge rejected the university's efforts to dismiss the suit.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara found sufficient evidence of UB's "hostile motives," and agreed the university may have violated the students' First Amendment rights by not doing more to contain the counter protest.

Muise said the settlement reinforces changes that UB adopted shortly after the lawsuit was filed. He said a pro-life rally and display on campus a year later resulted in a peaceful event with no counter protests.

UB officials declined to comment.

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