Speech First, a conservative free speech advocacy group, is suing Oklahoma State officials over rules that “deter, suppress and punish speech” about political and social issues.
The lawsuit claims the university’s harassment, computer and bias-incidents policies are overly broad and violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
“Speech First has members who attend Oklahoma State and whose protected speech is chilled by these three policies,” the organization said in the lawsuit. “The policies should be declared unconstitutional and enjoined.”
OSU released a statement that said officials are reviewing the complaint.
“Oklahoma State University values and cherishes everyone’s right of free expression on campus as an essential pillar of democracy,” the statement said. “The free exchange of ideas and opinions is part of the educational experience and fosters excellent critical thinking insight. We respect different viewpoints and strive to promote healthy and considerate discussion.”
The suit includes examples of three anonymous students who fear that the expression of their views will be considered biased, harassing, unwarranted and intimidating.
All three students are claimed to be politically conservative and hold “beliefs that are unpopular, controversial and in the minority on campus.”
Such beliefs include the opposition to affirmative action, abortion, transgender people, gay marriage, gay couples raising children and Black Lives Matter.
Speech First asserts the expression of these beliefs would result in disciplinary action under university policy.
The Student Code of Conduct prohibits “disparate treatment directed toward an individual or group of individuals” based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or religion, among other attributes. Violators are subject to suspension, investigation and other sanctions, pending a Student Conduct Committee Panel Hearing.
Cherise Trump, Speech First’s Executive Director, said OSU has no good reason to suppress political speech.
“The fact that students can’t even express an opinion without worrying that another student can use one of these policies to report them shows us that the school’s administrators have no interest in encouraging students to engage in the robust exchange of ideas nor in protecting students’ rights,” Trump said.
The lawsuit argues the students it uses do not fully express themselves because they believe students or faculty will report him to university officials.
Furthermore, Speech First said the students want to send politically-oriented emails, including campaign-related emails, to other students from their university email addresses. It is a violation to do so under OSU’s Appropriate Use Policy.
“That regulation is a classic content-based restriction,” Speech First said. “For example, the university’s policy appears to allow a student to send an email that says ‘support universal healthcare’ but forbids the same student from sending an email that says ‘re-elect Will Joyce for Stillwater Mayor because he supports universal healthcare.’”
The lawsuit is filed in the Federal Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. It requested a permanent injunction barring the university from enforcing its aforementioned policies.
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