Virginia Tech faces new lawsuit over alleged free speech violations

Under the existing university policy, students can be disciplined for bias-related incidents that occurred off campus.

The lawsuit alleges that students can be disciplined for merely being present when another person makes an "unwelcome joke."

Virginia Tech is facing a new lawsuit from Speech First, a First Amendment watchdog organization, over allegedly violating students’ rights with vague and broad rules surrounding student speech. 

In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Speech First alleges that Virginia Tech’s policies “restrain, deter, depress, and punish speech about the political and social issue of the day.” The organization takes issue with policies that encourage students to police each other, even anonymously, and for incidents that take place outside of campus. 

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Speech First describes a college environment where speaking freely comes with serious risks of discipline. “Under these policies, students can be disciplined for ‘unwelcome jokes’ – or even being present when such jokes are made and failing to report when such comments are made by another person; sending “partisan, political” emails using the university’s internet; or failing to register to hand out flyers on campus,” the organization says. 

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The organization’s press release also notes that individuals who report bias incidents online don’t have to state their name or provide their contact information. Virginia Tech’s student handbook states that bias incidents can be reported at any time, no matter how long ago the incident took place. 

Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski told Campus Reform that the university has not yet been served with the lawsuit. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito