University of Michigan’s Speech Code Challenged by the U.S. Government
As I reported last month a Washington D.C. group called Speech First, has filed a lawsuit on May 8th 2018 against U of M in the U.S. District Court's Eastern District. This group states that they combat restrictions on free speech and other civil rights at colleges and universities.
Their lawsuit claims:
A student who voices a controversial or unpopular opinion - or who seeks to use humor, parody, or satire when discussing sensitive topics - could face severe punishment…Many students will inevitably choose not to speak - or to speak less forcefully about controversial topics - rather than face the risk of disciplinary proceedings and punishment if another student takes offense at their words and files a complaint alleging violations of the Statement's ban on 'bullying,' 'harassment,' and 'bias-motivated misconduct.
Now according to the Detroit News the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is supporting the Speech First suit against the University of Michigan in what is called a “statement of interest”, with DOJ lawyers calling the school's speech “vague and overly broad on the same day that UM announced updates to its policies”.
In that response the DOJ lawyers argued that even if U of M is well-intentioned it:
imposes a system of arbitrary censorship of, and punishment for, constitutionally protected speech
The DOJ statement of interest went on to say:
The University’s policies prohibit speech that any listener finds 'bothersome' or 'hurtful' — an overbroad, vague, and subjective standard that is a paradigmatic example of the chilling of free expression prohibited by the First Amendment," government lawyers wrote.
"Universities have a crucial legal obligation to protect students from harassment and harm, and wide latitude to promote tolerance and respectful dialogue on their campuses. But state-run institutions like the University also must uphold the bedrock guarantees enshrined in the First Amendment.
U of M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald in response to the statement of interest said the DOJ, has "seriously misstated" university policy and "painted a false portrait of speech on our campus"
Mr. Fitzgerald went on to say:
Contrary to the department’s statement, the university’s Bias Response Team does not “ha[ve] the authority to subject students to discipline and sanction.' Rather, it provides support to students on a voluntary basis…UM prohibits 'harassing' and 'bullying,' but the definitions of those terms have just been streamlined and are based on provisions of Michigan law that have been upheld by the courts.
The lawsuit said University of Michigan’s Bias Response Team has received 150 reports of alleged expressions of bias since April 2017. These incidents includes posters, fliers, social media, whiteboards, verbal comments and classroom behavior.
If you were to be found guilty under this new “Speech Code” the punishment for offenders could range from required training sessions, can someone say re-education camps, to expulsion according to the lawsuit.
Is U of M’s speech code starting to sound a bit Orwellian to you? The problem is one person’s free speech is another person’s hate speech. Believe me with what I do for a living I can certainly attest to that.