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Who’s biased on campus?

Lawsuit claims Virginia Tech speech code and anti-bias rules stifle speech

Students on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. Facebook/Virginia Tech

Who’s biased on campus?

Universities have historically been bastions of new ideas, including unpopular ones. But a lawsuit against Virginia Tech administrators contends conservative ideas are increasingly unwelcome.

Speech First, a national free speech advocacy organization, filed a complaint on Thursday in federal court alleging Virginia Tech officials adopted a series of policies that unconstitutionally muzzle students. Speech First contends the school defines “discriminatory harassment” in a way that bars “urging religious beliefs on someone who finds it unwelcome.”

One policy prohibits students from using the school’s computer network for “partisan political purposes” or doing anything that violates “the rights of others to be free of intimidation, harassment, and unwarranted annoyance.” Another regulates speech officials believe is motivated by bias, and one bars the distribution of literature without prior written authorization.

The organization blames speech codes and “bias response teams”—which encourage students to monitor and report each other for violations—for chilling an open academic environment. The complaint alleges students have been reported for writing a satirical article about “safe spaces,” tweeting “#BlackLivesMatter,” chalking “Build the Wall” on a sidewalk, and expressing support for President Donald Trump.

“Through this elaborate disciplinary apparatus, administrators at Virginia Tech have intimidated students into silence, refraining altogether from expressing comments or viewpoints that might be perceived as controversial or offensive,” Speech First President Nicole Neily said.

Conservative and religious students and faculty increasingly find their views unwelcome on college campuses skewed toward progressive politics. Last month a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Shawnee State professor Nicholas Meriwether after a five-year battle to preserve his right not to address a biologically male student by feminine pronouns. On numerous campuses—such as the University of Texas—students have sued administrators to overturn speech-chilling policies.

Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C.



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