Court rules Tufts wasn't horsing around with the First Amendment when it barred veterinarian who owed it money from a lecture
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today Tufts University had every right to bar the door to a lecture to a veterinarian who'd refused to pay its veterinary school for treating her horse.
The state's highest court ruled that at issue was strictly a non-paid bill, not any attempt to get at Margo Roman because she holds a different philosophy on veterinary care than her counterparts at the university veterinary school.
Roman had brought her horse to the school for treatment of an eye problem in 2004. Doctors there diagnosed a metastized cancer and said she should consider "palliative euthanasia." Roman, who integrates homeopathy and herbal remedies into her practice, refused and took her horse home. According to the ruling, she then refused to pay a bill for the consultation, which led the school to warn her she would be barred from all campus activities until she paid.
The next year, Roman tried to attend a lecture at Tufts by a specialist on the purported evils of feeding "raw food" to animals. Roman, who promotes feeding "raw food" to animals, was met at the door by a school official, who said if she tried to get in, he'd have a nearby campus police officer arrest her.
Roman sued, claiming that because the event was open to everybody else and advertised publicly, barring her infringed on her right to free speech, even if she didn't plan to actually say anything.
In its ruling, the court noted that the state constitution is not as strict as its federal counterpart in limiting First Amendment actions to government agencies. But, the justices continued, Roman failed to prove that what Tufts did was harmful to her freedom of expression because the reason for banning her had nothing to do with her opinions but was instead "reasonable and neutral as to content and viewpoint" and only concerned with bill payment.
Roman suggests that, in deciding to exclude her from the lecture, the defendants were motivated impermissibly by personal animus toward her, or because they disagreed with her views on integrative medicine and raw food diets. The personal views of the defendants have no impact on the question whether the policy itself was content- and viewpoint-neutral. To the extent that Roman is claiming that the facially-neutral policy was invoked only to exclude those sharing her views, but not invoked against debtor clients whose views were consistent with those presented at the lecture, she has offered no evidence that anyone else with an outstanding and overdue debt attended or sought to attend the lecture.