Bias Reporting Systems Continue to Infringe First Amendment Rights

In early October, Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) sent 12 demand letters to universities across the country, urging them to change policies that chilled freedom of speech on campus.

The universities included Southern Utah University, The University of Maine – Orono (UMaine), Iowa State University, Rutgers University, and Louisiana State University, among others.

Whether related to bias reporting systems, “which allow students, faculty, and staff to report on one another for alleged instances of discrimination,” or on campus flyer policies, each university SLF identified had “‘unconstitutional’ policies that impede students’ freedom of speech,” as Campus Reform previously reported.  

As of the end of 2022, SLF scored a win as its demand letter to UMaine persuaded the university to revise its bias reporting system.

“UMaine is one of eight universities identified by SLF for its bias reporting form, which asked ‘any member of the University of Maine community’ to ‘report any possible bias-related incidents or hate crimes,’” Campus Reform reported this month.


SLF’s demand letter to UMaine requested that the “university remove the Bias Response Team from campus, as well as ‘clarify that speech is protected and cannot be subject to any investigation or punishment.’”

It also demanded that “the university link its Freedom of Speech website to the BRT page.”

In response, UMaine’s Bias Reporting Team (BRT) “now links to the university’s Free Speech Policy and clarifies that constitutionally protected speech is ‘not subject to the university disciplinary processes or a formal investigation.’”

As universities respond to SLF’s demand letters, and as others make headlines over First Amendment lawsuits, universities are expected to address challenges to free speech in 2023.

The University of Idaho, for example, recently settled a lawsuit that was brought by the campus’ Christian Legal Society.

The group was allegedly punished by the university for responding to a question about its views on gay marriage.

“The lawsuit claims that the university violated the students’ First Amendment rights by ‘punish[ing] students based on the content and viewpoint of those students’ protected speech,’” Campus Reform recently reported.

CeCe O’Leary, Director of 1A Project at SLF, said in a video discussing the 12 demand letters that censorship is unconstitutional and “it needs to stop.” 

Campus Reform continues to track updates from SLF and other legal challenges regarding the fight for free speech on campus and is expecting more details in 2023. 

Courtesy of Campus Reform.


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