by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The University of Texas is facing a lawsuit over a campus policy that bans “rude speech.”
Speech First, a nonprofit membership association that advocates for free speech on college campuses, filed the lawsuit late last week.
“By failing to define highly subjective terms such as ‘offensive,’ ‘biased,’ ‘uncivil,’ and ‘rude,’ the University of Texas has given itself broad discretion to determine which speech — and whose speech — violates their policies,” Nicole Neily, the president and founder of Speech First, said in a release. “Unfortunately, this fails to pass Constitutional muster.”
According to the group’s release, “more than 100 reports of alleged ‘expressions of bias’ — through posters, fliers, social media, whiteboards, verbal comments, classroom behavior, etc. — have been investigated by the university’s bias response team since September 2017,” and the existence of that bias-response team has made members of Speech First who are enrolled at the school hesitant to speak about abortion, identity politics, and immigration because they are afraid that “their speech will be anonymously reported as derogatory, hostile, and/or offensive to university authorities through the Campus Climate Response Team.”
The group further explains that the school’s failure “to provide sufficiently narrow definitions for . . . highly subjective terms” such as “rude” or “offensive” creates “a serious risk that these provisions will be enforced in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner, or will be used to target speech based on the viewpoint expressed.”