UT gets sued for punishing 'biased' and 'rude' speech

A free speech nonprofit sued the University of Texas system Thursday over policies restricting students from using “biased,” “rude,” “offensive,” and “uncivil” speech.

Speech First sued the UT system for its implementation of four policies banning speech that falls into these “subjective” categories, according to a press release obtained by Campus Reform. In particular, the nonprofit takes issue with UT’s campus climate response team, residence hall manual, “verbal harassment” ban, and acceptable use policy.

[RELATED: Students demand ‘full justice’ in censorship lawsuit]

“By failing to define highly subjective terms such as ‘offensive,’ ‘biased,’ ‘uncivil,’ and ‘rude,’ the University of Texas has given itself broad discretion to determine which speech – and whose speech – violates their policies,” Speech First President Nicole Neily said in the press release. “Unfortunately, this fails to pass Constitutional muster.”

Speech First claims that UT’s bias response team has investigated more than 100 “expressions of bias” since September 2017. Content designated bias incidents by UT includes “[d]erogatory comments made on a...course Facebook page” and “somebody...creat[ing] a hostile or offensive classroom,” according to the press release.

“Without a doubt, the University of Texas has failed to appropriately safeguard students’ First Amendment rights,” Neily said in the press release. “Students deserve to be able to express themselves and voice their opinions without fear of investigation or punishment – which is why these policies must be reformed.”

[RELATED: DOJ backs free speech watchdog in lawsuit against UMich]

Speech First received support from the Department of Justice in 2018 after filing a similar lawsuit against the University of Michigan.

”The university’s policies vigorously protect students’ First Amendment rights,” UT Austin spokesman J.B. Bird told Campus Reform, citing the school’s speech, expression, and assembly policy. “The University of Texas at Austin strongly values and protects free speech, and all students, faculty and staff have the right of free speech and expression on the UT Austin campus.”

”We have not had a chance to review the lawsuit,” Bird continued. “At first glance, it appears to be incomplete on certain facts. We look forward to reviewing it and responding through legal channels.”

UT Austin’s administration is not the only body that has attracted attention for politically-charged decisions. The school’s student government previously punished a slate of candidates for its president/vice president positions after one of the candidates, Colton Becker, “love-reacted” a post accusing a candidate from the other slate of anti-Semitism. In response, the student government prohibited Becker’s slate from campaigning for four hours.

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