University of Illinois just learned a very important First Amendment lesson

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign settled a lawsuit with a free speech nonprofit.

In the settlement, UIUC agreed to change several of its "unconsitutional" policies.

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign will abolish free speech restrictions imposed by its bias-response team to settle a lawsuit brought by the campus free-speech advocacy organization Speech First. 

Filed in May 2019, Speech First v. Killeen challenged the constitutionality of UIUC’s policy of “preapproving political flyers” and imposing “No Contact Directives” on students accused of uttering offensive remarks. The legal challenge further aimed to strip bias response officials of their authority to discipline students. 

The resolution came just days ahead of the deadline of its review by the Supreme Court.  

“As a result of Speech First’s lawsuit, the University agreed to forever repeal its unconstitutional flyer policy,” said a press release issued by Speech First on Wednesday, “the University also made specific guarantees about students’ free-speech rights concerning the bias-response teams and the issuance of No Contact Directives. Prior to this settlement agreement, the University had never made those representations anywhere in its policies.”  

[RELATED: U Illinois SUED over ‘unconstitutional’ policies]

Speech First President Nicole Neily said the terms of the settlement will prevent the university from intimidating “students into silence by accusing them of bias,” adding that it “makes clear where the school’s authority ends.” 

Speech First sued UIUC in May 2019 after a group of students said they had been subjected to investigations and harsh sanctions after advocating support for former President Donald J. Trump, restrictions on illegal immigration, and UIUC’s former mascot Chief Illiniwek, which was retired in 2007 for having a “painful impact” on Native American students. They alleged, for example, that students who are “anti-Israel frequently threaten to report students who are members of pro-Israeli organizations.” Speech First’s complaint also cited the case of Andrew Minik, a former Campus Reform correspondent and current Regional Field Coordinator for Campus Reform’s parent organization, the Leadership Institute, who was issued a no-contact-order for reporting on an event he did not attend. 

Speaking to Campus Reform after Speech First filed its complaint in 2019, Neily, who is a UIUC alumna, said that UIUC had “probably…one of the worst bias response teams we’ve seen.” She said this week that her organization is “proud” to have played a role in ending policies it described as “draconian” and “unconstitutional.” 

Speech First won a comparable victory in December when the University of Texas at Austin disbanded its bias response team to resolve a similar suit. 

Follow the author of this article: Dion Pierre