College Republicans have filed a federal lawsuit against their New York state school to overturn its “oppressive” speech code.
The GOP students at State University of New York College at Brockport, Patricia Simpson and Robert Wojick, distributed pamphlets on two separate instances that ran afoul of faculty members.
In February, the campus group handed out a flier that exhorted members of the college community to “End Liberal Indoctrination on Campus.” A faculty member renounced it as “harassment” and demanded that the group either be denied funding or shut down.
Last October, an angry faculty member insisted the group stop distributing an “offensive” pamphlet that jokingly urged people to “Bring Back the Blacklist.”
But the speech code at SUNY Brockport bans expression that is clearly constitutionally protected, contends the Buffalo, N.Y.-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, which filed its fourth lawsuit against campus speech codes June 3.
SUNY Brockport’s policy, notes FIRE, includes the following examples of harrassment: “cartoons that depict religious figures in compromising situations”; “calling someone an ‘old bag'”; “jokes … making fun of any protected group”; and “discussing sexual activities.”
Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy, says the school’s administrators “must have read the First Amendment to some other nation’s constitution.”
“Not only does SUNY Brockport tell students what not to say, it actually tells them what they must say and even what they must think,” Lukianoff said. “A free society does not tolerate such Orwellian horrors.”
Lukianoff argues the First Amendment “protects discussion of important public concerns, even if some faculty or students are offended.”
In its attempt to distinguish what constitutes sexual harrassment, for example, the school “simply dispenses with the Bill of Rights,” Lukianoff says.
The school says, “Normal, courteous, mutually respectful, comfortable, appropriate, pleasant, noncoercive interactions … that are acceptable to both parties are not considered to be sexual harassment.”
But Lukianoff argues the Constitution does not give government the power to limit speech to what it finds “pleasant.'”
“The wonder is that anyone would risk speaking at all at SUNY Brockport,” he said.
In its ongoing Speech Codes Litigation Project, Fire has defeated in court a speech code proposed by Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and repealed all of the speech code policies of Citrus College in California.
Litigation at Texas Tech University is underway, but the university already has repealed some of the most egregious parts of its speech code, FIRE says.
“We are confident that the courts will continue to take the side of freedom over repression,” Lukianoff concluded.Download file "College GOP sues over speech code"