Southern Utah University (SUU) removed a tab from its campus safety website where students and officials could report alleged “bias” or “hate” incidents after the Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF), a non-profit legal group, challenged that it violates students’ right to free speech, SLF confirmed to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
SUU defined a reportable incident as a “form of expression or action that is motivated wholly or in part by prejudice or bias” which may not “rise to the level of criminal activity or illegal or prohibited discrimination, but its effect is to discriminate, demean, embarrass, assign stereotype, harass, or exclude individuals” based on characteristics or status, according to an archived version of the website. Non-criminal reports were relayed to the Office of Human Resources or the Dean of Students Office.
At the time of writing, the campus safety website appears to have deleted the Bias Incident tab.
“This is another step in the right direction for free speech on campus. By maintaining a bias reporting system, SUU was shirking its duty to encourage and protect student expression,” Cece O’Leary, SLF’s 1A project director told the DCNF. “We are glad that the university took the bias reporting system down, and we will continue to hold colleges accountable until they are once again the true marketplace of ideas.”
SLF claimed that the system violated students’ First Amendment rights because it permitted administrators to “discriminate against the content and viewpoint of speech,” and “unconstitutionally chill[ed]” free speech because the system permitted “anyone on campus to report students for perceived bias incidents,” according to its Dec. 3 letter to the university.
Braden Boucek, SLF’s litigation director, said in a Dec. 21 press release that schools often use intimidation to prevent students from speaking, but that that “when called on their bluff, they know they have no choice but to comply with the Constitution.”
SLF sent a total of 12 legal demand letters in October to universities across the country which operated a form of bias response systems, according to an Oct. 4 press release. The nonprofit asked the universities to revise or abolish the systems to comply with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The University of Maine (UMaine) complied with the legal group’s request and updated its bias reporting system to clarify that the administration cannot punish or investigate protected speech, SLF announced on Dec. 14. UMaine also added a link to its Free Speech Policy on the reporting website.
SUU, Campus Safety, the Office of Human Resources and the Dean of Students Office did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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