Adam Key, 23, filed suit on Thursday, accusing Regent University of violating his constitutional rights.
Key said university officials suspended him from law school for posting on the Internet the image of Robertson. Officials considered the image obscene, he said.
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The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Houston, states the university, in Virginia Beach, Va., violated Key’s rights guaranteed by the 5th and 14th amendments as well as his freedom of religion, assembly and speech included in the 1st Amendment.
“You can’t censure free speech,” Key said.
University officials cannot comment on the case because of student privacy issues, said Judy Baker, university spokeswoman.
The suit, which names Robertson and the university, seeks repayment of tens of thousands of dollars Key paid in school costs during the 18 months he attended the university, said Randall Kallinen, his attorney.
The suit states that Key used as his profile picture on an account on Facebook, an Internet social networking Web site, a photograph showing Robertson with his middle finger extended.
The photograph, the suit states, was the last frame in a video he had seen on the video-sharing Web site YouTube that depicted Robertson scratching his face.
After university officials saw the photograph, the suit states, they threatened disciplinary action against him because it was obscene and not in an academic context. He removed the picture.
He then posted on a university e-mail discussion group the photograph along with an academic critique of the university’s policies regarding free speech and obscenity. A few days later, he said, he was suspended.
The suit states he had no notice of the suspension and no hearing where he could state his case.
The critique states, among other things, that: “anytime the Regent administration disagrees with someone’s views, they (sic) can censor those views on the basis that it violates ‘accepted standards of decency.'”
Key said he would like to be reinstated at the university so that he can more easily transfer to the University of Houston Law Center. He said law schools generally don’t admit students who are on disciplinary suspension from other schools.
Kallinen said the center previously accepted him to law school, but he chose Regent because they offered him a partial scholarship.