Justice Department backs conservative students who claim universities stifle speech

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First Amendment

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The U.S. Justice Department is backing students in several cases who argue their universities are restricting their First Amendment right to express their views.

In the most recent case, the Justice Department filed a statement of interest in a lawsuit that contends the University of Michigan’s rules against bullying and harassment discourage unpopular viewpoints, report the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News. A press release is here.

The suit was filed in May by Speech First, a group that includes students who support President Donald Trump, and have strong views about gun rights, immigration and abortion. The group says the university’s policies are so vague and overbroad that students curtail their speech to avoid discipline.

The DOJ statement says the university policies impose a system of arbitrary censorship and punishment for speech protected by the First Amendment, and the federal court should strike down the policies.

At the time the suit was filed, the university defined harassment to include creating a perception that behavior is bothersome, a standard cited in the Justice Department’s statement released Monday. The university announced the same day that its definition has been revised to limit the definition to behavior that would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and that actually causes such distress.

The university has also changed its definition of bullying. Both new policies use wording in state law.

The case is Speech First Inc. v. Schlissel.

The Justice Department has also supported:




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