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‘Students can’t even express an opinion’: Major university sued over speech policies


Daily Caller News Foundation

Oklahoma State University (OSU) violated students’ First and Fourteenth amendment rights by enforcing policies which police speech concerning political and social issues, according to a lawsuit filed by legal group Speech First on Tuesday.

OSU enforces policies which “deter, suppress, and punish speech about political and social issues of the day,” according to the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. It specifically challenges three issues Speech First alleges violates student speech rights: the harassment policy, the computer use policy and the Bias Incident Response system.

“Oklahoma State’s policies are clearly designed to monitor, investigate, and restrict student speech all together,” Cherise Trump, Speech First executive director, said in a press release. “The fact that students can’t even express an opinion without worrying that another student can use a campus policy to report on them shows us that the school’s administrators have no interest in protecting students’ rights.”

Speech First alleges that OSU’s harassment policy, which defines harassment as “verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion, bullying” or conduct that could harm a student’s mental health, is vague and “can easily be applied to a wide swath of protected speech.” It also alleges that the computer use policy, which prohibits political campaigning, violates students’ rights by preventing them from “using their student email accounts for protected political speech.”

Speech First also tackles the school’s Bias Reporting System, which permits the campus community to report alleged biased incidents, because it allegedly “enforces speech codes through a reporting mechanism that solicits reports from students for their ‘bias’” and monitors student speech on and off campus as well and online.

“These policies not only force students to censor themselves when they interact with one another, but they also put students in the mindset that they should be offended by the opinions of others they disagree with, and that by committing the offense of being ‘bias,’ or what most of us may just call ‘being opinionated,’ warrants disciplinary action against you,” Trump said in the press release. “Universities should focus their efforts on fostering and promoting debate and open discourse, encouraging students to engage with ideas they find challenging. Oklahoma State’s policies have the opposite effect and violate their students’ First Amendment rights .”

Speech First asked the court to rule the policies violate the First and Fourteenth amendments and bar the university from further enforcing the policies on campus, according to the lawsuit.

Speech First and Oklahoma State University did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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Republished with permission from Daily Caller News Foundation

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