The Department of Justice today filed a Statement of Interest in Speech First, Inc., v. Schlissel in the Eastern District of Michigan. The plaintiff, Speech First, a nationwide organization dedicated to defending civil liberties, alleges that the University of Michigan has adopted policies prohibiting and punishing speech protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Speech First alleges that the University of Michigan’s policies on “harassment,” “bullying,” and “bias” are so vague and overbroad as to prompt students to limit their speech out of fear that they might be subject to disciplinary sanction, including “individual education” or “restorative justice” at the hands of the University’s Bias Response Team.
The United States’ Statement of Interest argues that the University of Michigan’s Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, which prohibits “harassment,” “bullying,” and “bias,” is unconstitutional because it offers no clear, objective definitions of the violations. Instead, the Statement refers students to a wide array of “examples of various interpretations that exist for the terms,” many of which depend on a listener’s subjective reaction to speech.According to the Plaintiff free speech organization Speech First, the speech policies of the University of Michigan make it far too easy for conservative speech to be silenced. Virtually any student could get another in trouble with the university through a claim of “harassment” or “bullying” just because they disagree with certain political opinions. Higher education should be a place that stimulates differing opinions and intellectual curiosity, not to place arbitrary limitations on certain viewpoints. Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio shared this very sentiment in issuing the following statement:
“Freedom of speech and expression on the American campus are under attack. This Justice Department, under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is committed to promoting and defending Americans’ first freedom at public universities.”The RNLA commends the Department of Justice’s fight to preserve our First Amendment rights at the University of Michigan and other colleges and universities across our nation.