Nonprofit drafts model legislation to combat bias report systems

Speech First drafted model legislation for states to break down Bias Report Systems at colleges and universities.

The legislation followed the organization's report, which found that 56% of private and public universities have a Bias Reporting System to monitor speech.

In an effort to end Bias Reporting Systems (BRS) that track speech code violations on college campuses, Speech First (SF), a non-profit dedicated to protecting free speech, drafted model legislation that would strengthen free speech rights on college campuses.

The legislation was drafted in partnership with the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, “a free-market public policy...organization dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, economic freedom, and individual liberty.”

The model legislation argues that “public universities and community colleges have an obligation to uphold students’ First Amendment rights of free speech.” 

It also stipulates that violations could result fines of at least $1,000. 

Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute Matt Beienburg told Campus Reform that the legislation is an “important complement” to its Campus Free Speech Act that “ensures that universities cannot directly restrict” student speech. 

[RELATED: Survey: Most students favor colleges restricting speech]

According to Beienburg, the model “will likewise stop activist administrators from trying to suppress student speech indirectly through the fear of being reported to campus authorities.”

In an SF press release about the legislation, the organization states that 56% of colleges “have some form of ‘Bias Reporting System’ or BRS, which are teams and/or procedures that solicit, receive, investigate, and respond to reports of ‘bias incidents’ or other similar speech.”

She continued, “the definitions of ‘bias’ and ‘bias incidents’ used in the protocols of these systems are expansive and undeniably cover constitutionally protected speech and expression - including microaggressions and laughing at jokes.”

The proposed legislation is not SF’s only fight for free speech, however.

The nonprofit is also suing universities that impose heavy restrictions and enforce overly broad policies that chill on-campus speech.

Campus Reform recently reported that the University of Houston paid Speech First $30,000 in legal fees after its harassment policy was ruled unconstitutional. 

SF Executive Director Cherise Trump provided Campus Reform a statement regarding the organization’s fight for free speech:  

“Universities need to be held accountable for their policies that are clearly designed to regulate and chill speech,” the statement reads. “States should be doing all that they can to support students’ free speech rights, and that includes withholding funding from colleges and universities that have Bias Reporting Systems and are encouraging students to report on one another for ‘bias incidents.’”

Beienburg, too, referred to BRS as “an already toxic trend in higher education.”

”College campuses should be encouraging the free exchange of ideas among students, not intimidating those who have politically unwelcome opinions or beliefs,” he said.

[RELATED: SURVEY: 80% of students are ‘self-censoring their viewpoints,’ many feel uncomfortable speaking up in class]

Trump also encouraged “aggressive action” to protect students’ free speech rights on campus.

“It is obvious that nicely asking universities and encouraging them to sign ‘Free Expression Statements’ isn’t accomplishing much considering students self-censor and avoid debating political topics more than they ever have before,” she added. 

“We often see universities promise to uphold the First Amendment on campus, but who is holding them to these promises,” Trump questioned. “The states need to step it up and create real and tangible consequences.”

Campus Reform contacted the Goldwater Institute for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

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