Three Lantern journalists clearly display their press credentials to Columbus Police Monday night. They were pepper-sprayed by police after clearly stating that new media are exempt from the citywide curfew. Credit: Adam Cairns/The Columbus Dispatch

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, joined by the Student Press Law Center and College Media Association, wrote a letter to Ohio State President Michael V. Drake Tuesday, asking the university to address what they called a “serious and knowing abridgement of the rights” of Lantern reporters Monday night.

The June 2 letter, which was also sent to Columbus Chief of Police Thomas Quinlan, expressed support for the three Lantern reporters who were pepper-sprayed by Columbus Police while showing press credentials and repeatedly identifying themselves during a protest that went past the citywide curfew implemented by Mayor Andrew Ginther Saturday — news media are exempt under the order. 

The reporters, who were not standing near protesters when approached, were told to go home because of the curfew even as they explained they were media as the demonstration quickly dispersed. Multiple officers forcefully pushed at least one Lantern reporter and proceeded to spray all three at point-blank range and continued as our reporters retreated backwards.

In the joint letter, the organizations state that covering protests and filming police officers are “unambiguously protected by the First Amendment and clearly permitted by the letter and spirit of the executive order imposing the curfew.” 

The letter calls for the university to support the student journalists, saying that the action violates the student journalists’ right to gather information and the public’s right to know about police operations. 

“The university must take a stand in support of its student media by engaging with the Columbus Division of Police to ensure that student journalists will not be subject to pepper spray, forceful removal, or other adverse actions while covering community events in the future,” the letter reads.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education also created a blog post which detailed Monday night’s events and the contents of the joint letter that was sent to Drake.

The university did not have a direct response to the letter, but Drake said in a tweet that the university was aware of “multiple reports” from the week of protests involving student encounters with police. 

“These raise serious questions, and we are seeking answers,” Drake said in the tweet.

The letter requests that action be taken by the university no later than the close of businesses hours June 9.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses, according to the letter.

The Student Press Law Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and the nation’s only legal assistance agency devoted exclusively to supporting, defending and educating high school and college journalists about their First Amendment rights and responsibilities, according to the letter.

The College Media Association is the leading organization of professionals who advise college newspapers, broadcast outlets, websites, magazines, yearbooks and other forms of student media, according to the letter.