UPDATE: University to pay $35K in legal fees for violating student speech rights
'After a year and a half of litigating and negotiating, we are happy to say that the students can rest assured their speech rights are in better shape on... campus today than they were yesterday.'
The university disbanded its bias response team and revised two policies to comply with the First Amendment.
The University of Central Florida (UCF) settled a lawsuit with Speech First (SF) on Sept. 23 that challenged three policies that allegedly violated student speech rights, costing the Orlando school $35,000 in legal fees.
UCF agreed to disband its Bias Response Team (BRT), as well as revised its computer use policy to broaden the scope of what students are permitted to do with the university’s technology. UCF’s nondiscrimination policy was refined to narrow the definition of harassment to speech that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive as to deny a student an equal access to education” per the Davis Standard.
Campus Reform reported in May that the 11th Circuit U.S Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Speech First on Apr. 21, and claimed that the BRT “objectively chills speech because its operation would cause a reasonable student to fear expressing potentially unpopular beliefs.”
"After a year and a half of litigating and negotiating, we are happy to say that the students can rest assured their speech rights are in better shape on UCF's campus today than they were yesterday,” Cherise Trump, SF executive director, said in a press release obtained by Campus Reform. “Our lawsuit led to the elimination of UCF's Stasi-like bias response team and ensured that the university's policies actually consider the fundamental rights of their students.”
SF filed for a preliminary injunction in Feb. 2021. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled in favor of the non-profit regarding the computer use policy, stating that its ban on messages that constituted “intimidation, harassment, [or] unwarranted annoyance” was written in “broad and undefined terms.”
The District Court upheld the Orlando school’s BRT and discriminatory harassment policy, prompting SF to file an appeal that September.
“These lawsuits aren't quick, and they require a substantial amount of follow-through, but the results last, and they reverberate across hundreds of campuses,” Trump said. “We are looking forward to arguing our case regarding similar policies in the Fourth Circuit against Virginia Tech this October."
Campus Reform contacted Speech First and UCF for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.
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