Federal Anti-Harassment Bill Threatens First Amendment Rights on Campus

Category: Free Speech

  • Why the Tyler Clementi Act Threatens Free Speech on Campuses

    April 10, 2011

    At first glance, the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act might appear to be helpful, important legislation. The bill would require colleges that receive federal aid to prohibit harassment based on certain characteristics, including sexual orientation. Named in honor of a Rutgers University student who took his own life last fall after his intimate encounter with another man was secretly broadcast online by fellow students, the proposed legislation is evidently a product of good intentions. But a closer examination of the bill, reintroduced in both houses of Congress last month, reveals a serious threat to student speech on campuses­ and […]

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  • Stop Making Laws Named After People Who Die

    January 7, 2011

    Civil rights lawyer and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education co-founder Harvey Silverglate (Reason archive here) has a great piece up at Forbes about still another legislative attempt to restrict speech in the name of protecting students. Excerpt: Few American institutions best the Congress in the destructive practice of turning a human tragedy into an assault on liberty. Exhibit A is the ongoing effort to ratchet up anti-bullying measures on campus—with potentially dire consequences for campus free speech. [...] Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) and Rep. Rush Holt (D., N.J.) have authored a bill—dubbed “The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment […]

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  • Bullying Free Speech

    January 6, 2011

    Few American institutions best the Congress in the destructive practice of turning a human tragedy into an assault on liberty. Exhibit A is the ongoing effort to ratchet up anti-bullying measures on campus—with potentially dire consequences for campus free speech. Last fall, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi took his life after discovering that two students had surreptitiously spied on his dorm room sexual encounter with a male, streaming video of it online. In response, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) and Rep. Rush Holt (D., N.J.) have authored a bill—dubbed “The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act”—that aims to prevent future […]

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  • Sens. Lautenberg, Holt plan to reintroduce anti-bullying bill named for Tyler Clementi

    January 5, 2011

    WASHINGTON – Two New Jersey lawmakers plan to try again this year to win passage of an anti-bullying bill named for a Rutgers University student who committed suicide last fall. The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which didn’t come up for a vote in the waning days of the last Congress, would require colleges and universities that receive federal funds to explicitly ban harassment based on a student’s sexual orientation. Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Democratic Rep. Rush Holt of Hopewell Township introduced the measure on Nov. 17, about two months after the 18-year-old Clementi jumped to his death […]

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  • Free speech advocates alarmed by ‘unconstitutional’ anti-bullying bill

    December 14, 2010

    by Steven Nelson The Daily Caller   The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act may not be fast-tracked for a vote during the lame duck session of Congress. This comes as a relief to free speech advocates who fear that the legislation may usher in a new era of censorship on college campuses. The free speech advocacy group the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has expressed concern that the bill, sponsored by Democratic New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, contains unconstitutional definitions of harassment. Will Creeley, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy, told The Daily Caller that he believes […]

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  • Should colleges be required to prohibit bullying and harassment?

    December 10, 2010

    Expanding the definition of “harassment” to punish hurtful or insensitive speech on college campuses has been tried again and again over the past three decades with disastrous consequences for free speech. Since the tragic recent suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, whom authorities say took his own life following his roommate’s online broadcast of Clementi’s intimate encounter with another man, demands are on the rise for an expansion of the legal definition of harassment to protect college students from “bullying.” These demands, while understandable, are wholly misplaced. What happened to Clementi was, unsurprisingly, already a serious criminal offense for which the students involved have […]

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  • Anti-Bullying Laws and the Misguided Drive for Social Equality

    December 2, 2010

    There’s no dearth of important issues for Congress to address in the lame-duck session, but New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has introduced an entirely gratuitously anti-harassment bill anyway–The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2010. (Congressman Rush Holt introduced the same bill in the House.) Federal civil rights law has long prohibited harassment in schools receiving federal funds; Tyler Clementi was not the victim of harassment or any absence of rules against it: his suicide followed a gross and apparently criminal violation of privacy–the secret taping and broadcast of his sexual encounter with another male. So, there’s no need […]

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  • Proposed federal law another threat to free speech on campus

    November 24, 2010

    It is like an immutable law of physics. For every offensive action there must be introduced an equally offensive law to futilely attempt to prevent it from ever happening again. Never mind if there are already plenty of laws on the books, there oughta be a law. Thus it is with the apparent suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who reportedly jumped off a bridge after two classmates live-streamed on the Internet video of him in a sexual encounter with another man. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Rush Holt have introduced HR 6425, the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment […]

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  • FIRE’s Creeley in ‘Chronicle of Higher Education’: ‘Why the Tyler Clementi Act Threatens Free Speech on Campus’

    April 11, 2011

    Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley takes an incisive look at the free speech implications of the proposed Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act. The Act, about which we have written plenty and which no doubt rings familiar to many of our readers, was re-introduced in Congress last month by Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Rush Holt, both of New Jersey. It would amend the Higher Education Act to require colleges and universities to enact policies addressing student harassment in compliance with its terms in order to receive federal funding, […]

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  • Problematic ‘Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act’ Returns to Congress

    March 11, 2011

    Yesterday, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) reintroduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The legislation was first introduced last November, but failed to reach a vote before the end of the 111th Congress. The exact text of the newly reintroduced bill is not yet available on Thomas.gov, the Library of Congress’ legislative information tracker, and as of this morning, neither Senator Lautenberg’s nor Representative Holt’s offices were able to provide the exact text or to confirm that the text of the legislation is unchanged. However, Senator Lautenberg’s press release indicates that the […]

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  • Column: Better Ways to Deal with College Bullying

    January 12, 2011

    Writing for the Asbury Park Press (NJ), Columnist Bob Ingle looks with a critical eye toward the recently proposed “Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act,” about which we have written plenty on The Torch. We have laid out our concerns that the proposed federal legislation, introduced in Congress by Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Rush Holt, will lead to even more abuses of First Amendment and free speech rights on university campuses under the given objective of preventing peer harassment and “cyberbullying.” Ingle’s column discusses these and other problems regarding the bill in an insightful fashion. He agrees with us […]

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  • ‘Bullying Free Speech’: FIRE Chairman Warns of Threat to Student Speech Posed by Federal Anti-Bullying Legislation

    January 7, 2011

    FIRE Chairman and Co-founder Harvey Silverglate has a new article on Forbes.com discussing the threat to student speech posed by the “Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act,” introduced in Congress by Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Rush Holt last November. Harvey’s warnings about how the bill would erode freedom of expression on campus are timely and important; the bill’s authors say that they plan to reintroduce the legislation in the new Congress soon. In his article, entitled “Bullying Free Speech,” Harvey argues that the proposed legislation is “deeply flawed,” pointing out that it introduces new restrictions on student expression that […]

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  • ‘Daily Caller’ is Latest to Draw Attention to Federal Harassment Bill’s Threat to Free Speech on Campus

    December 15, 2010

    Steven Nelson of The Daily Caller is the latest commentator to bring attention to the serious free speech concerns presented by the recently proposed Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act. We’ve had plenty to say about the flawed federal bill in recent weeks, as have others, so it’s nice to see others join the discussion on this important matter. The bill, introduced in Congress last month by Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Rush Holt, would amend the Higher Education Act and require federally funded colleges and universities to have policies in place to prevent and address peer harassment and bullying, […]

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  • Greg Lukianoff Featured in ‘Congressional Quarterly Researcher’

    December 9, 2010

    FIRE President Greg Lukianoff is featured in the latest issue of Congressional Quarterly Researcher (purchase required), which examines the ongoing debate over how to address harassment and bullying in schools. Going head-to-head with Representative Rush Holt, co-sponsor of the recently proposed “Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act,” Greg reviews the dangers posed by the rush to legislate. As Greg points out, “Expanding the definition of ‘harassment’ to punish hurtful or insensitive speech on college campuses has been tried again and again over the past three decades with disastrous consequences for free speech.” FIRE has argued in recent weeks that the […]

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  • David French on the Tyler Clementi Act and Threats to Free Speech in ‘National Review Online’

    December 1, 2010

    Alliance Defense Fund senior counsel and former FIRE president David French commends FIRE’s principled opposition to the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act in a post over at Phi Beta Cons. David argues that the proposed legislation is redundant and would chill free speech.

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  • Vague Anti-bullying Laws Have Unintended Negative Consequences

    December 1, 2010

    Read Massachusetts attorney Gregory C. Keating’s op-ed in today’s Boston Globe on how the “unworkably broad definition of bullying” in the state’s new anti-bullying law, “while well-intended, is fraught with problems and has already led to unintended and unfortunate consequences.”

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  • Criticism of FIRE’s Stance on ‘Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act’ Misses the Mark

    November 30, 2010

    Last week, FIRE issued a press release criticizing the “Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act,” explaining at length that the proposed legislation’s sloppy definition of harassment would threaten speech on campus. Our press release detailed exactly how the bill’s definition of harassment contradicts and weakens the precise definition of peer-on-peer harassment in the educational context provided by the Supreme Court in the 1999 case Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education—and thus would worsen the already shocking problem of censorship on campus. Unfortunately—but perhaps not surprisingly, given the understandably powerful emotions driving the legislation—some have taken our criticism of the […]

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  • Congress’ Bad Idea and Other Issues: FIRE Media This Week

    November 24, 2010

    While this is a short week because of the Thanksgiving holiday, FIRE has nevertheless hit the media with our opposition to the “Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act.” The magnificently mustachioed Thomas Mitchell of the Las Vegas Review-Journal cites yesterday’s FIRE press release in identifying the bill as “another threat to free speech on campus,” which it manifestly is. Inside Higher Ed also noted FIRE’s alarm. Walter Olson of the Cato Institute and the blog Overlawyered suggests that university speech codes are being reborn as anti-bullying rules, which is FIRE’s concern as well, although such speech codes would be even worse if […]

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  • ‘Tyler Clementi Act’ a Grave Threat to Free Speech on Campus

    November 23, 2010

    FIRE has watched with growing concern as we have seen the idea of “bullying” expanded to cover more and more protected speech on college campuses. Now we’re on full alert. An “anti-bullying” bill, the “Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2010,” was introduced in Congress last week, and it gravely threatens free speech on America’s college campuses. While we suspect that the bill has the admirable intention of preventing future tragedies, FIRE has determined that it is at odds with the Supreme Court’s carefully crafted definition of harassment and would require colleges to violate the First Amendment. In today’s press release, FIRE President […]

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  • ‘Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act’ Threatens Free Speech on Campus

    November 23, 2010

    PHILADELPHIA, November 23, 2010—An “anti-bullying” bill introduced in Congress last week gravely threatens free speech on America’s college campuses. Despite the bill’s admirable intention of preventing future tragedies, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has determined that the bill is at odds with the Supreme Court’s carefully crafted definition of harassment and would require colleges to violate the First Amendment. “Tyler Clementi was subjected to an unconscionable violation of privacy, but that conduct was already criminal and prohibited by every college in America,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “For decades, colleges have used vague, broad harassment codes to silence even […]

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