News and Commentary

Free Speech Organization Sues University of Central Florida For ‘Discriminatory’ Speech Policies

"The Constitution does not give UCF the authority to judge the content to student speech.”

   DailyWire.com
Students make their way across campus on the first day of classes for the fall semester at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla., Monday, Aug. 24, 2015.
Phelan M. Ebenhac/Getty Images

A free speech organization filed a lawsuit against the University of Central Florida (UCF) alleging that the school has “discriminatory” policies in place that chill students’ speech.

Speech First, a nonprofit membership organization working to combat campus civil rights restrictions, filed a lawsuit against the university over its “discriminatory” harassment policy, its computer policy, and its “Just Knights Response Team” (JKRT), which is the school’s version of a Bias Response Team.

Bias Response Teams are measures deployed by universities to combat “hate speech” on campus. The teams ask students to tattle on their peers to Bias Response Teams, such as UCF’s JKRT, which proceeds to monitor and investigate students and faculty with “problematic” speech. Some teams use law enforcement and student conduct administrators to enforce their rules.

“The University of Central Florida and its administrators have created a series of rules and regulations that restrain, deter, suppress, and punish speech about the political and social issues of the day,” Speech First said in a press statement.

According to the lawsuit, the university’s harassment policy claims that “harassment” can occur virtually anywhere, at any time, and by any medium. The school’s policy applies to incidents on and off-campus and refers to an “incident” as anything that has “continuing adverse effects on or create[s] a hostile environment for students.”

Under the school’s policy, if Student A explains why they support police officers and Student B is offended by this idea, then Student A could face punishment for speaking about something that has an “adverse effect” on Student B.

Once a student’s speech is reported to the university, an investigation is immediately launched and students are subject to disciplinary action. The lawsuit argues that such policies have a chilling effect on student’s speech.

The school has similar speech codes imposed on their technology as well. Students “who use university information technology resources” are subject to the same harassment speech codes. The university prohibits using its network to send messages “that reasonably could be perceived as being harassing, invasive, or unwanted.” Though, it offers no examples of what behavior is included in these descriptions. Students can be punished by being stripped of network and computer access privileges.

Under these policies, students at UCF are reportedly scared to express views that may be considered “biased” for fear they will be reported to the JKRT, which acts as a “clearinghouse for any bias-related incidents that may occur on UCF campuses.”

According to university policies, responses to accusations of bias by the JKRT “involve a variety of activities including discussion, mediation, training, counseling, and consensus building.” Community members more broadly involved or offended may also enter JKRT sessions, even when an incident happens between two parties.

Under the university’s code of conduct, failure to participate in JKRT interventions is considered “disruptive behavior.”

“UCF’s disciplinary measures associated with their bias response team resemble reeducation camps, forcing adult college students to sit through patronizing lectures on which types of speech the university considered acceptable,” said Speech First founder Nicole Neily. “Unfortunately for the school, the Constitution does not give UCF the authority to judge the content to student speech.”

The organization has asked for a permanent injunction barring UCF from enforcing the three bias response rules.

Speech First recently won a similar lawsuit against the University of Illinois over its bias reporting systems.

The Daily Wire reported:

The University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign will be forced to amend a handful of policies that were allegedly used as mechanisms to silence on-campus speech, ending a nearly two-year legal battle with a free speech organization.

Speech First, a legal group that tackles campus speech issues, filed a lawsuit against the University of Illinois in May 2019 for upholding policies they claim were prejudiced against students with unpopular beliefs. Shortly before the Illinois Supreme Court was set to review the case, the university settled and agreed to amend or remove the dispute policies.

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