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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Tamara Kay’s defamation case against the Irish Rover dismissed

A Notre Dame professor’s lawsuit against the Irish Rover and her claims of defamation were dismissed Monday by the St. Joseph Superior Court.

The court ruled that two articles about Notre Dame sociology and global affairs professor Tamara Kay published in the Irish Rover, a student newspaper committed to preserving the University’s Catholic character, were made with reasonable basis in fact and in compliance with the law.

After holding a hearing with oral arguments in December 2023, the St. Joseph Superior Court dismissed the case under Indiana’santi-SLAPP law, which protects First Amendment rights. St. Joseph County Senior Judge Steven H. David signed the ruling.

According to the order to dismiss, the court found “that there is a reasonable basis in fact for describing Dr. Kay as ‘willing to help students access abortion,’” and similar statements.

In May 2023, Kay alleged in the lawsuit that the two articles, published in October 2022 and March 2023, contained false statements, defamation and other inaccuracies, resulting in allegations of harassment, threats and damage to her residential property.

The court found that “the alleged defamatory statements were true, within the meaning of the law, not made with actual malice, did not contain a defamatory inference and there were no damages that were causally linked to The Irish Rover articles.”

The Irish Rover’s anti-SLAPP motion met the standards for the case to be dismissed. The allegedly defamatory statements were made in furtherance of the defendant’s right to free speech, in connection with a public issue and in good faith with a reasonable basis in law and fact.

The court’s decision upholds the Irish Rover’s right to free speech. David found that Kay’s references to “healthcare” and the letter “J” on her door are evidence that she was willing to help provide abortion pill access, given the context of her public stance on abortion rights. 

Over the past seven months, the Irish Rover and Tamara Kay made opposing arguments about Kay’s actions chronicled through court filings. The Irish Rover said posters on Kay’s door, her academic work, her statements and social media activity demonstrated that she was willing to help students access abortions. Meanwhile, Kay claimed that the word “healthcare” and the “J” on her door were inspired by and referred only to her desire to help victims of sexual assault. The court ruled that Kay’s statements and the signs on her door identified her as both willing to help students access abortions and willing to help victims of sexual violence.

The court said that these debated pieces of evidence “can most reasonably mean to infer something much broader than just being an advocate for victims of sexual assault.”

As the court stated, “Dr. Kay supports assistance for women of sexual violence and Dr. Kay supports abortion rights and support for abortion information and access.”

While Kay has the right to free speech to make statements on any topic, the court said “the context of the communication must be determined in the context of a number of different factors.”

Kay also earlier made the argument that the articles were a “concerted effort” to get her fired, but the court found “no evidence that The Irish Rover’s intention when it published the articles was to damage Dr. Kay’s career, nor was it malicious or reckless.”

The court also found that the Sycamore Trust, the Notre Dame chapter of Right to Life and individual professors do not control the Irish Rover. 

The court noted that the October article mentioned that much of Kay’s effort to help students obtain abortion services were facilitated through social media. The legal proceedings made public Kay’s tweets linking to sources for Plan B and Plan C pills.

Relating to the published articles in the Irish Rover, the court found that when DeReuil wrote his October 2022 article, he “did not harbor any doubts as to the meaning and truth” of the information indicating that Kay was willing to help students access abortions. When former politics editor at the Irish Rover Luke Thompson published his piece in March 2023, the court determined he had “accurately quoted and summarized” all the information in question, including quotes from a College Democrats meeting Kay had spoken at, along with the messaging on her door and her public statements.

DeReuil and the Irish Rover have taken to X, formerly know as Twitter, and the Rover’s website to celebrate their victory in court.

“Indiana Court affirms what we at the Irish Rover knew all along — our reporting on Notre Dame Prof Kay’s offers to help with ‘access and cost‘ of abortion was both true and made it good faith.,” DeReuil wrote Monday afternoon on the social media platform.

An Irish Rover editorial published Monday claimed that the lawsuit was an attempt by Kay to “intimidate undergraduate students” at Notre Dame from reporting accurately on her public messaging.

“We hope,” the Irish Rover’s editorial staff wrote, “that this ruling will serve to discourage such efforts to chill free speech in the future and invigorate others to courageously exercise their right to freedom of speech in pursuit of the truth.”

After the court order was released Monday, The Observer reached out to Kay, who was not willing to provide any comment at the time.