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Suit Alleges OSU Violates First Amendment

Education

Oklahoma State University | Image by Tyler Travis Clarkson/Shutterstock

Oklahoma State University (OSU) is facing a lawsuit for allegedly suppressing or punishing students for constitutionally protected speech concerning political and social issues, violating students’ First and Fourteenth Amendments rights.

The legal group Speech First filed the lawsuit against the university last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.

The group is specifically challenging three OSU policies that it claims violate student speech rights: OSU’s harassment policy, computer use policy, and Bias Incident Response system.

“This lawsuit not only holds OSU accountable for its unconstitutional policies, but it puts other universities on notice that students are no longer willing to tolerate being steamrolled by universities who use these intimidating investigatory measures to silence and suppress their speech and their thoughts,” Speech First executive director Cherise Trump told the Daily Caller.

“We filed because our student members at OSU are desperate for a campus environment that allows them to debate their peers without fear of retaliation from an administration bent on shutting down meaningful discourse.”

Speech First alleges that OSU’s harassment policy is too vague and “can easily be applied to a wide swath of protected speech,” which “chills protected speech and expression.”

OSU’s policy defines harassment as “verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion, bullying,” “persistent, severe, or pervasive” behavior, or action that “threatens or endangers the mental … health” of another student.

Actions that could elicit punishment include verbal comments, written statements, “incorrect name or pronoun usage,” or an “offensive picture or image,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleged 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 further criticized OSU’s Bias Reporting System, which permits students to report their peers for alleged bias in speech, whether the incident occurred on or off campus or even online.

OSU defines bias as “a disproportionate weight in favor of or against an idea or thing, usually in a way that is close-minded, prejudicial, or unfair,” according to the lawsuit.

Because bias has such a wide definition, “speech is often labeled ‘biased’ based solely on the listener’s subjective reaction to it,” Speech First claimed in a press release.

Students have allegedly been reported for things like writing a satirical article about “safe spaces,” writing “Build the Wall” on a sidewalk in chalk, expressing support of Donald Trump, and tweeting “#BlackLivesMatter,” according to the lawsuit.

Bias-response teams are tasked with investigating and logging incidents, meeting with relevant parties, and “re-educating” the “offender,” which could come in the form of formal or informal discipline.

Speech First asked the court to rule that the policies violate the First and Fourteenth amendments. It also asked the court to bar the university from further enforcing the policies on campus.

The university released a statement in response to the lawsuit.

“University officials learned about the complaint via the media and will be carefully reviewing [it]. Oklahoma State University values and cherishes everyone’s right of free expression on campus as an essential pillar of democracy,” it read.

“The free exchange of ideas and opinions is part of the educational experience and fosters excellent critical thinking insight.

“We respect different viewpoints and strive to promote healthy and considerate discussion. As a matter of course, it is inappropriate to comment on pending litigation.”

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R Reason
R Reason
11 days ago

Third graders took the wrong school bus, again.